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The 6 universal truths of retention

Many enrollment, admissions and marketing leaders find themselves knowing that retention is a priority but uncertain of where to start. The fact is that there are many possible approaches to retention. The late Rheu Stakely used to advocate for retention being seamlessly woven into everyday school life. Some schools use relationship-driven approaches while others are more strategy and data-driven. I have written an e-book that supports a segmentation-based methodology. That has all the potential for a head-whirling sense of confusion. Here is some much-needed clarity. While different independent school retention game plans have different priorities, there are six universal truths that should govern any approach.

You’ve got to have a goal. Whether expressed as a percentage or as an absolute number, you need to have a retention goal – or goals – if you are using a segmented approach. Clearly, the success of retention efforts must be measured against that goal. If you’re looking for a benchmark, current NAIS data is that the average retention rate in independent schools is approximately 88%. You should also distinguish between voluntary and involuntary attrition as well as noting families leaving for reasons unrelated to their experience (e.g. relocations). Most importantly, your retention goals should be shared widely – with advancement, educational leadership, faculty and the business office.

Use data to drive retention. Goals are more likely to be achieved when supporting data is being monitored. For example, parent satisfaction surveys can be an important predictor of retention results and can also indicate those elements of the school experience that can be improved to impact retention. Some schools use the Net Promoter Score which is a measure of parents’ willingness to refer a school to family and friends. Exit surveys can provide important attrition data.

It’s easier to retain than it is to recruit. The resources (financial and human) required to retain a family are dwarfed by those required to recruit one. In business, estimates are that it costs between and five and twenty-five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Similar data isn’t available from schools but it’s hard to imagine that retention costs would even compare to recruitment spending once you include advertising, online strategies, video and events.

You can’t do it alone. To be successful, retention efforts have to be a holistic enterprise that is on the agenda of every group or body in a school. And if that’s true, then the involvement of heads of school is critical to retention success. Beyond that, retention committees – comprised of those from enrollment, admissions and marketing as well as educational leaders and faculty -are fantastic vehicles for developing retention strategy and driving results. In fact, EMA’s most recent State of the Industry Report found that schools with retention committees are much more strategic in their approach to retention efforts.

Retention = recruitment. Word of mouth is unquestionably the largest driver of inquiries to schools. The positive comments of current parents have tremendous impact on the decision-making of prospective parents. EMA’s recent Ride to Independent School study revealed that parents’ primary method of research about a school is speaking to parents with children at that school. Other forms of word of mouth such as alumni and school review sites were also considered to be important sources of information. Your efforts to enhance the experience of current parents will reap both retention and recruitment benefits.

Never Stop Competing. There is no time in a parent’s association with your school that they are not aware of and interested in what competitive schools are offering. The EMA study referenced in the previous point surveyed 7,000 independent school parents and found that half of parents considering an independent school for their children were already independent school parents. Treat your current parents with the same care and attention as prospective parents.

Retention success is critical to enrollment results and a key contributor to overall school success. While there may be different approaches to retention, these six truths will lead to positive results.

What do you think?

What are your retention truths? Let me know what would you add to this list?

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