In each issue, The Yield profiles The Enrollment Management Association member schools, asking how their offices tackle processes and procedures and integrate trends and data into their decision-making process, marketing, recruitment, and retention strategies. In this issue, we speak with Brad Brown, Director of Admission at The Walker School (GA).
Briefly describe the challenges faced in achieving enrollment each year at Walker.
Cobb County is considered to have one of the stronger public school systems in the state of Georgia. Our public school competition is rich with free charter, STEM, magnet, engineering, and I.B. programs. Our specific independent school shared applicant competition consists of a number of well-recognized schools, while our geographic competition is saturated with faith-based private schools with much lower tuitions.
What are the key entry points at the school? In your time working at Walker, has demand shifted in any of the divisions?
Our key entry points are our “early learner” age group (three and four year olds) as well as sixth and ninth grades. These are traditionally our “expansion” grades. In the past few years, we have experienced the national trend of declining applications for the lower grades, including our preschool and lower school. In my 15 years at Walker, we have seen a shift in terms of families waiting longer to commit to an independent school education. More and more families are waiting until middle or high school to make the change.
What is the primary vehicle for marketing your school? Do you employ different strategies for each of the divisions?
Historically, our primary and most effective vehicle for marketing Walker has been word of mouth. This is consistent throughout all four divisions. Within the past few years, we have increased our presence on social media and created a more robust marketing plan, including strategically placed billboards, direct mail pieces, print ads, and cinema spots. My office works closely with our communications office and our board-level marketing committee to evaluate the effectiveness of our marketing strategies, to increase brand awareness, and to address the value proposition.
What are the tenets of a successful recruitment process? Are there specific initiatives your team has found to be more fruitful than others in attracting quality applicants to your school?
Walker’s recruitment process is anchored entirely in the premise that admission should be as personalized as possible. From the moment of inquiry to enrollment, we strive to provide each applicant with meaningful and impactful interactions with our admission team, current students, teachers, parents, administration, and alumni. We have also placed a huge emphasis on the quality of our campus visits through our shadow program, which allows prospective students to spend a portion of a school day with one of our many student ambassadors. The admission process should be a journey of discovery. We believe that each prospective family should come away from the experience with a greater understanding of who its child is as a learner.
How is your team structured? How do you allocate your work week/ month within each of the divisions?
Patti handles our database, maintains all of our records for both enrollment and re-enrollment, processes financial aid applications, and does scheduling. She regularly provides updates and reports to all divisions as needed and is integral in maintaining consistent lines of communication with our internal and external constituents.
Rebecca is new to our admission team, but is by no means new to the Walker community. Her experiences in law, academia, and as both a current and alumna parent provide our office with a very unique lens. Having served part time last spring, she will serve this year as associate director, focusing on 6th—12th grades. This includes conducting tours and interviews, attending school fairs, visiting feeder schools, reading admission files, and working closely with our parent ambassador team to personalize the admission process.
As director of admission, I oversee the admission process for all four divisions. I work closely with each division’s principal and faculty to develop an admission process that accurately highlights the strengths of their respective divisions. I also have a wonderful working relationship with our director of business and finance, focusing on enrollment and assisting her in determining the yearly and financial aid budgets. I meet regularly with our director of communications to develop and evaluate our marketing strategies. Finally, this year we developed a parent ambassador program, which was officially launched this month. I now meet regularly with our lead admission ambassador to fine tune our message and empower our parent team with a common language to articulate the strengths of our program and our community.
Multiculturalism is an important value at Walker. How does this emphasis inform the ways in which you recruit and retain families to the school?
Here at Walker, our first core value states, “We believe in the infinite worth and dignity of the individual.” This permeates our whole school community. As Cobb County’s only preschool-through-12th, nonsectarian, independent day school, we take great pride in offering a program that we believe values diversity and celebrates each student’s unique identity. We find more of our applicants, both domestic and international, are looking for a school community that is more reflective of the global community. We have developed some strong partnerships with international recruitment organizations and local groups to help with the recruitment of students of diverse backgrounds. Our school community has been transformed from 10% students of diverse backgrounds in 2004 to 28% today. This includes the development of three short-term international exchanges and an upper school international enrollment of 4%.