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5 ways that retention success leads to school success

Oftentimes it’s hard to muster the resources that are needed to move the needle on retention results. The retention presentation to faculty gets pre-empted. The retention committee can’t get past the in-formation stage. The board prefers to hear about website analytics and recruitment numbers. But, when it comes to retention, either you’re doing something about it or you’re not. If you’re looking for ways to motivate others – or maybe yourself – to give retention the attention it deserves, here are five ways that retention results lead to school success.

Recruitment #1 – Word of Mouth. Retention success is built on addressing the needs, interests and concerns of current parents which drives positive word of mouth – and nothing is more important to the success of recruitment efforts. A recent study of almost 3,000 parents asked for their primary method of school research and the number one response was parents who have children attending or who previously attended a school. In addition, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that people trust recommendations from family and friends over any other marketing sources. We also know that at least 80% of inquiries are attributable to word of mouth. It’s quite clear that better retention leads to better recruitment results.

Recruitment #2 – Low-hanging fruit. There are recruitment situations that should be a gimme. Yes, it’s a mistake to ever take anything for granted and every child is different, but being able to count on enrolling a sibling should be the rule, not the exception. The same is true of families who are related or best friends. Often times there are schools that are natural feeders to yours and enrolling the majority of those students is also low-hanging fruit. However, poor retention efforts and parents who are less than satisfied will create barriers to those opportunities.

Enrollment Planning. Retention efforts that are working well create predictability and stability in enrollment patterns – and that results in a stronger foundation for all types of planning. From an enrollment management perspective, it makes it possible to focus on mission-appropriate recruitment, enrollment beyond entry-level grades, middle-income affordability, increasing the number of full-fee families, and maybe even the role that admissions plays in DEI initiatives. It also makes it possible to plan for the implementation of larger-scale projects like continuous enrollment.

Financial Planning. Having 90-95% of students regularly re-enrolled creates great financial certainty. With predictable lifetime values in place, it becomes possible to plan for capital expenditures, staffing increases, and additional educational resources. It creates a climate in which new tuition and affordability programs can be carefully considered and implemented. Also, rising inflation is resulting in increasing costs for schools and a very satisfied parent population is more likely to tolerate the tuition increases that will inevitably become necessary.

School Improvement. For heads of school and other school leaders, stable retention means there are fewer fires to put out. That makes it possible to take a more proactive approach to school improvement and ultimately a more visionary look at the future of the school. Over time, successful retention creates a parent body that is a more reliable sounding board and a stronger partner in planning. Feedback is more informed and may even lead to sound suggestions for improvement and change. In addition, a rooted school population will be more trusting and receptive to change, providing school leaders with the freedom to think more openly about possibilities for improvement.

There is no question that retention efforts are the key to achieving healthy enrollment results. With tuition accounting for 80% of total school income (according to NAIS data), that alone should provide the motivation for school leaders to turn their attention to retention results. The reality is that the five impacts in this post are just the tip of the iceberg. Retention numbers impact just about every facet of a school’s operation and contribute broadly to overall school success. If that’s not enough to generate action on retention efforts, nothing is.

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