Wishful thinking? Guesswork? Market Research?
by Gerry Ebbers, SCSBC Consultant for Stewardship & Development ◊
Now that the new school year is underway, the question you may have had about your enrollment this year has been answered. Hopefully you are pleased with your numbers. Whether you are or are not, this is the time to reflect on your enrollment trend and what that means for your marketing program and long range planning.
One or two schools may be in the enviable location where their school-age population is increasing, but most schools, public and Christian, are located where the demographics show a continuing decrease in the number of children entering school. That’s a situation you can’t do anything about. However, Christian schools have always felt that as long as there are children of Christian parents in public schools, the Christian school has the potential for growth. That is true, but information from many schools is showing that that potential is shrinking. There will always be Christian parents who believe their children should be in public schools; there are parents who are unwilling to make the financial sacrifice; and there are parents who believe their children need the special programs that their local public school offers. Your school may have already penetrated its market as far as it can.
What you should do early this school year is review your marketing program. Most schools do not have a program that is as targeted, effective and efficient as it could be. Making changes in your marketing program and/or putting more resources of people and money into it is obvious. But you also have to track what you are doing year by year to see what is producing results. Where are your new parents coming from? Why are they coming? How did they hear about you?
More importantly, long range planning for facilities, staffing, and programs all depend in part on being able to project your enrollment for the next 5-10 years. Looking at the trend of the past five years is helpful, but does not provide enough evidence to make significant planning and financial decisions. The question remains: do you know how many students you will have in kindergarten in five years? Taking into account that these students haven’t even been born yet, is there any way of making a projection?
There is, but it depends on how good your connections are to the churches your parents attend. So this is also the time of year to review your church relations program: In what ways do you work with your churches? Do you have liaisons in most of the churches your students attend? Assuming you do, here’s the information you should be gleaning and analyzing from each church each year.
- The demographics of the church: Is it growing? What segments of its population are growing? Is it gentrifying?
- How many couples got married? How many babies were born? Is that an increase or decrease compared to other years?
- Is the percentage of children in that church who attend your school increasing or decreasing?
Tracking this information, analyzing it, and adding to it the information you track from your marketing program will give you a much better idea of your enrollment potential rather than basing it on what has happened in the previous five years. Projecting enrollment will help all schools with their long range planning, but it is crucial for those schools which have already been experiencing enrollment declines. Improving your marketing program is essential, but even that won’t help if the children don’t exist.