by Rebecca Eckstein
When I think about managing enrollment, key indicators like inquiries, visits, and applications naturally come to mind. However, much more is required in order to achieve ongoing sustainable success in an independent school or university.
Every good chief enrollment officer has a strategic plan for the week, the month, and the year. A great chief enrollment officer has a strategic plan for the next five years and a backup plan for inevitable interruptions—operating systems crash, tour guides become ill, or it rains on an event day. While it is not all about the numbers, but about the inherent good that we deliver to families and our schools when we manage enrollment well, there are eight strategies that have worked for me over the years:
1. Anticipate the Future. My enrollment management plan begins with a SWOT analysis. Strengths and weaknesses tell us what to enhance and improve, while opportunities and threats give us room for growth and protect us from our vulnerabilities. Admission counselors need to know their families’ needs and not shy away from hard questions. Staff needs training, accountability, and goals to ensure continuous success in the future. The demographic outlook is changing rapidly. Is your school equipped to serve families with varying wants and needs?
2. Use Technology to Your Advantage. Streamline operations so that counselors are spending 80 percent of their time enrolling students and 20 percent in preparation or meetings. Use technology (like a robust CRM software solution) to increase your efficiency. Does your system give you real-time data from any computer in the world? Do you have a dashboard that summarizes your key indicators at the touch of a button, or do you spend hours running ad hoc reports?
3. Be Proactive in Your Analysis. In order to assess key indicators, a predictive year-to-date model is critical. Boards generally do not have patience for shortfalls, and few heads have time to concentrate on the details. At the end of the day (or the summer when there is melt), you do not want to agonize over what you might have done differently. Boards and heads expect you to foresee shortfalls or melt and to plan proactively for success.
4. Set High but Achievable Goals. Set your external goals high, your internal goals higher, and prepare your predictive model forecast conservatively. This keeps you ahead of the budget. Set up a forecast that is realistic so that you stay out front instead of spending your time playing catch-up. When you are trying to catch up, you will often find your 80/20 day reversed. There is simply not enough mindfulness training available for you and your staff during an enrollment shortfall!
5. Think Like a CEO. Each summer, I take a deep dive into the big data, perform a postmortem on last year’s outcomes, and brainstorm what I can do differently. Pretend this is your business. What would you do? Think like a CEO to ensure your own success. Study other businesses and other markets. What are they doing?
6. Find Your Disciples. Re-enrollment should count for the largest percentage of enrollment revenue. Discounting those families who should be returning is a serious mistake. You have to keep in touch, maintain loyalty, and honor your promise statement. Once you deliver, you can utilize those families to ensure that your newest families become entrenched in the community. If your attrition rate is increasing, then implement a retention plan that continuously promotes value to your current families.
7. Build “Multi-Channel” Relationships. Relationship building, sometimes one family at a time, is the most important priority. Yet, the admission role requires so many skills and talents that often the best enrollment staff burns out or combusts without multichannel infusions. Do your teachers all know what to say when given the mic? Are they able to explain the essence of your school and can they recite the undeniable facts over a cup of coffee or on a plane? Multichannel marketing can promote your students and teachers to help target and capture a new audience.
8. Focus on You. Stress is real, and grit is necessary. I recommend a good mentor for motivation and collaboration. Find a group, go to a conference, study the trends, and learn how to predict the future.
The road is becoming more narrow and bumpy as fewer families see the value in the investment, as boards expect the best students, and CFOs trim financial aid budgets. We must all create new paths to produce student success for our future. Our schools and our students are depending on us.
Rebecca Eckstein is vice president for admissions and enrollment management at Woodward Academy (GA).