Location: Chatham, Virginia
Type of school: Single Sex; Male Boarding/Day
Hargrave hired you this past year as the director of enrollment. Can you describe why the title change was necessary for the academy, and how it’s different than a traditional director of admission position?
With the current challenges in independent schools and most notably in small boarding schools (especially ones with defined niches), it was important to capture the momentum and develop a strategic approach to enrollment. Like many schools, we have a need to integrate strategic marketing, financial aid, recruitment, and retention for sustainability. Operating in silos stymies visionary growth.
What are the most notable differences coming into a military school from your other independent school experiences?
Interestingly, the most notable difference between my former independent school and Hargrave Military Academy is just the experience of working with high school students in a boarding environment. Coming from a PK-8 day school, it’s fascinating to see conflict resolution and cultivation of social bonds and brotherhood develop among the students not just inside the classroom, but at “home” in their barracks. They’re not just exposed to diversity in all forms; they learn to live with it and appreciate it in the most authentic sense. When you meet alumni from military boarding schools, you see that the strength of these bonds lasts a lifetime. The boarding environment lends itself to really getting to know the students and support their talents in all facets of their school experience. Here at Hargrave, I get to witness the boys’ successes in academics, athletics, leadership, and residential life on a much richer level. I’m not sure I will ever get over the emotional rush of pride when they don the dress uniform and march on the parade field or pass me in hall and say, “How are you doing today, Ma’am?”
Have there been any noteworthy changes or observations you’ve made in your first year in this new role?
The first order of business was to observe the culture of Hargrave and gain a deeper appreciation of the traditions that have served the academy for over 108 years, and to get to know the boys. I’ve attributed much of my success in my career to building relationships. The sense of community drew me to Hargrave, so when I’m not on the road or planning strategic enrollment initiatives, I’m doing the fun stuff—getting to know the faculty and staff and all of our 225 cadets by first name! I inherited a young and energetic admission team, who are hungry for professional development and new ideas. One of my primary goals has been to identify the skills and talents of the team and then get us out of the office meeting families, establishing feeder school relations, and connecting with agents and educational consultants who understand Hargrave’s mission.
What are the greatest challenges you feel the school faces in order to achieve its enrollment goals?
One of the greatest challenges for military schools is dispelling the myth that we are reform schools. One of the first lighthearted ice breakers we ask our visiting families is, “Did you have any trouble getting past the barbed wire fence and guard dogs?” At the end of the tour, we almost always hear, “Wow...it really feels like a prep school.” While it’s easier to convey that during a tour, the challenge is in developing a strong marketing campaign that captures who we are and provides an enticing snapshot of what families experience during a campus visit. The second (and perhaps equal) challenge is trying to convince parents that their kids do not need to be “fixed,” but rather they need a different environment in which they will thrive and then stay the course. If we continue to push through those two hurdles with strategic marketing messages to the internal and external communities, Hargrave will keep experiencing growth.
How has the recent development of the strategic planning process at Hargrave informed your work in admission?
The strategic planning process presented the opportunity to see where Hargrave was, is, and can be. It’s been a collaborative effort between the admission team, executive leadership, and a dedicated board of trustees who have not been afraid to roll up their sleeves in creating our vision for the future. The Enrollment Management Association has been a supportive partner to Hargrave by providing both essential data and working directly with us to help educate our board on the trends in independent school education.
As a result of your strategic plan, have you implemented new or different marketing strategies to recruit and/or retain cadets? How have you sought to track and measure specific initiatives?
We currently have a new website in development and are working closely with digital marketing firms to target our tried and true markets and identify new emerging market areas. In response to the content this generation demands, a large focus this year has been to create collections of video vignettes that capture what we do and why, and keeping our social media robust. We understand our clients are both parents and future cadets, so we need to be mindful that our content reaches both on an emotional level. We gauge the digital metrics and also monitor the standard data germane to the admission office.
Are there any products or services that The Enrollment Management Association provides which you feel offer benefits to your work enrolling new cadets?
We are looking forward to adopting the Standard Application Online (SAO). The SAO appears to be a great tool to streamline the process for our admission office and for our families. It will integrate with our current CRM and also open our doors to a new applicant pool both domestically and internationally. Expanding our partnership with The Enrollment Management Association will also give us access to prospect lists for recruitment.
Any school with “military” in its name has the benefit of being part of that brand. Families think they understand what it means. What myths/negative associations do you have to overcome? How do you leverage this in a positive way?
At worst, some believe military schools are reform schools, or can answer some of the therapeutic needs that reach beyond what we can provide (as a college preparatory school using the military model to provide structure and discipline in developing character and leadership). Some tend to think the military structure is just about giving and receiving direct orders. When you see it in action, it’s inspiring. It’s theory in practice. The cadets are not merely managing one another. They are leading each other—by example and inspiration. They have to problem solve and face challenges similar to any adult in the corporate world who must lead a team to increase profit margins. Military schools need to embrace their niche and identify and feel pride in what we do. There’s so much discussion on grit these days. One of the treasures of the military boarding life is that the boys learn to face challenges and muscle through them. When things are difficult or boring, they no longer shut down or avoid it, they tackle them because they’ve gained the focus and discipline to move forward. If there’s one intangible in which military boarding schools have dominated, it’s grit and perseverance. It’s a natural byproduct of the experience and I leverage that in every conversation I have with families, because I see it every day.
How have you worked to build or strengthen relationships with individuals, feeders, and consortium groups as you meet colleagues from other schools? Are there joint efforts for promotion of military academies through your affiliation with organizations such as the Association of Military Colleges and Schools (AMCSUS)?
Great mentors early in my career took me under their wings and showed me the value of collegial consortia, as well as being a part of a supportive informal network of fellow admission directors. I’ve been fortunate to find that same level of collegiality and opportunity in Virginia. The Virginia Military School Admission Directors touch base informally throughout the year on enrollment trends and position. More formally, there are opportunities with AMCSUS fairs and conferences and a host of additional independent school conferences and fairs that provide professional development and networking opportunities. Of the 10+ years I’ve attended The Enrollment Management Association’s Annual Conference, this year, for the first time, I attended a whole different track of breakout sessions—those that focused on boarding trends and data. Our team is also tasked with reaching out to consultants and feeder schools in assigned territories. Relationships are essential. Given all the data on the power of word-of-mouth marketing, it’s critical we rely on both satisfied customers and other professionals in our field who can provide testimony about who we are.
Meet The Team
Alice M. Hendrickson, Director of Enrollment Management Prior to joining Hargrave in June 2016, Alice served as the director of admission, marketing and financial aid at St. Mark’s Episcopal School (FL) for eight years. She has teaching and administrative experience in both independent and public schools. Enrolling her son in a military boarding school and witnessing a transformation in his attitude and involvement reaffirmed her belief that finding the right independent school for your child is not a one-sizefits- all process. For many families, exploring military boarding schools can be an emotional process; she believes her personal experience offers comfort and connection.
Lawrence Robinson, Admission Counselor Lawrence is completing his fourth year as an admission counselor at Hargrave and currently serves as an assistant athletic director and a varsity football assistant coach. He attended Christchurch School (VA) and completed his internship there. His experience attending and now working at private boarding schools has allowed him the opportunity to relate to current and prospective students.
Jeremy Eubank, International Admission Counselor Jeremy received his undergraduate degree in public relations from Ashford University and his masters degree in human services from Liberty University. Jeremy serves as the international admission counselor at Hargrave and is also the head varsity soccer coach and assistant track coach.