By Claude Anderson, Dean of Enrollment Management, Northfield Mount Hermon School
Charged with the financial sustainability of the school, trustees must know about, understand, and be updated regularly on their school’s enrollment management. Tips for the board:
Consider a board enrollment committee. The head and the director of enrollment management can suggest goals and objectives for a board enrollment committee populated by members who understand marketing, communications, and sales in a non-profit environment—and can become experts for the full board.
Review compositional goals. Annually, the board should be informed about what the target compositional goals are, what it will take to get there, and why those compositional goals are the right ones. Beyond focusing on the number of full-pay students needed, boards should understand the quality of the student body when setting financial goals. Some full-pay students may have strong adverse effects on program and the long-term enrollment strength of the school. For example, weaker matched students draw on more resources and adversely impact the quality of other students’ experiences.
Understand the full impact of tuition increases. Boards often see charts and spreadsheets showing the necessary tuition increases and enrollment needed to sustain the school over 1-, 3-, or 5-year periods of time. A chart of the number of full-pay families that will be lost at the various tuition increases over time should also be included.
Survey the customers. Quantitative information is a valuable tool for assessing the needs of a school’s enrollment management strategy. Surveying current and prospective customers is an important part of this process. Boards need to see the data and interpret it for themselves, so that they are able to ask the right questions and understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the school.
Understand the current school’s brand image. Boards with many alumni will remember the school from the past. This may distort what needs to be done in the current enrollment environment. The school should demonstrate how some things that the board deems important now might not be so important to today’s customer. Both can exist, but one may not be the key message presented to prospective parents who aren’t disciples of the school yet.
Create the budget with the director of admissions. The director of admissions has to be able to handle discussions with the finance committee of the board. S/he needs to be aware of what is important to present to the board so they can make the best short-term and long-term decisions about tuition revenue.
Use financial aid strategically. Boards have a tendency to underestimate the full value that financial aid creates. Financial aid is a marketing tool that can have tremendous effects on the composition of the student body and its ability to generate income. The composition of the student body, of course, affects the ability to re-enroll the following year.
Understand why full-pay families are important. The board needs to understand the numbers behind this group, namely what percentage of full-pay students is needed to operate the school. A reminder about how this group fits into the financial and composition picture of the school is necessary also.
Consider how the selection process works. Each school’s selection process has methodology and intentions and the board should understand how the admissions office determines its selections. They need to be able to understand statements such as: we accepted only boys in thatclass; we added additional athletes; we didn’t take all of the siblings; three full-pay 6th grade students couldn’t do the work.
Understand the school’s marketing strategy. The board needs to focus on marketing, communications, or sales strategies, not the tactics. Money is often involved in marketing, so creating a board that is aware of the marketing strategy and requirements can impact the budget.
Minimize parking lot talk. Boards are people too, and individuals may have areas that are particularly important to them in the enrollment management process. Out-ofthe- board-room conversations may sideline a well laid out plan or put unnecessary pressure on the administrative team. These conversations are best held in committee meetings or the board room.