Updated: Jul 29, 2022
Enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year is in full swing in many communities. And with school budgets largely dependent on per pupil revenue to fund a majority of their programs and personnel, it’s critically important that schools hit their target enrollment numbers.
But the pandemic has taken a toll on school budgets. For the second year in a row, public schools have seen a decline in enrollment as many families explore alternative school options like private, charter and homeschool programs.
And the projections for the 2022-2023 school year aren’t generating much confidence either. A more optimistic view expects public school enrollment to stay flat. A clearer picture is expected this spring when the National Center for Education Statistics releases its final enrollment findings.
With many school leaders thinking about school marketing for the first time, we’ve pulled together some strategies to help you get started.
School Marketing’s Impact on Family Engagement
You might be wondering, why are so many of our blogs focused on school marketing and student recruitment when our passion is family engagement?
It’s really quite simple. As we shared in our first blog -
“Family engagement doesn’t begin on the first day of school. It begins with the first encounter a family has with your school, and oftentimes this is well before a family has made an enrollment decision.”
Schools with highly engaged families have better student achievement, fewer disciplinary issues, strong parent-teacher-student relationships and an overall thriving school community.
Want to improve family engagement at your school? Perhaps first consider how you showcase your school to prospective families.
5 Myths About School Marketing
1. Marketing is only for private and charter schools.
All schools are funded to some degree by the number of students they enroll. Private school families pay tuition. Charter schools and traditional public schools are funded by local property taxes and state revenues. The amount of funding available to any school is still determined by the number of students they enroll.
If your school’s enrollment numbers are dipping, there’s only two ways to turn that around. You need to ensure the students currently enrolled come back next year. And you need to reach new students to fill any open seats.
2. Marketing is only about reaching new families.
Ever think about what it takes to recruit a new student to your school? Consider the resources necessary to do outreach in your local community. The staffing to handle phone calls, emails and school tours. What about special programs created to support new families?
Recruiting a new student likely requires more resources than simply making sure you keep all your current students. Don’t limit your definition of marketing to new families. Include your current families in the process as well so you can reduce your attrition rates and have fewer open seats to fill each year.
3. Marketing is a one-time event.
When a family chooses to enroll their child in your school, they are not looking for a one-time, might-not-be-back type of transaction. Education is about collaboration between teachers, students and parents. And for some families, this might span many, many years at the same school.
School marketing is about relationships. And building relationships takes time. Schools should be intentional about their marketing programs, and ensure they are giving families (both prospective and enrolled) an opportunity to participate throughout the year.
4. We don’t have a marketing budget.
Every school has a marketing plan to some degree, whether they intentionally set aside funds or not. If new families are showing up each year, they are learning about your school from someone, somewhere. The key to managing a marketing plan with a small budget is consistency, resource management and identifying a few “ambassadors” (parents or staff) who can help create a positive buzz in your local community.
5. We don’t have any content for social media.
I’m always baffled when I hear this from school leaders because I think of all the cool things happening at school, every single day. And yet oftentimes when I check a school’s Facebook page, all I see is a long list of reminders, and these have little to no value for a prospective family.
The challenge is likely around creating a process to capture all these cool activities so you can share them with your network on social media. Or if you are still out of ideas, explore the pages of a few other schools in your community until you find one that does it well.
School Marketing: Where Should You Begin?
Hopefully by now, we’ve planted a few seeds as to why school marketing is important and why this should be part of your annual plan. So where do you go from here? Here are 4 steps to get your started.
1. Define your enrollment goals
Look at the projected number of students in your budget that you expect to have at your school next year. Then ask yourself a few questions:
How many open seats do you expect you will need to fill to meet your enrollment number?
How many students are not returning next year? Is this number higher or lower than anticipated?
If you are unable to meet your enrollment number, what’s the minimum number of students you could enroll without impacting personnel or any school programs?
2. Assess what you have (your marketing “toolkit”)
Make a list of the materials you have to promote your school. Then review and evaluate each piece and determine if any updates are necessary. Consider the following:
Brand assets - logo (in multiple formats), school story (messaging)
Digital media - website, social media, video
Printed media - flyers, postcards, car decals
Signage - enrollment banners, yard signs
Presentations - school tours, back to school night
3. Assess what’s working (your marketing programs)
Make a list of the marketing programs you have used recently to promote your school. Consider what you share with prospective families and currently enrolled families. Then evaluate the effectiveness of each program. If you are unsure how successful a program is, consider how you might track this information for next year. Typical programs include:
Word of mouth (referrals)
Digital marketing - social media advertising, email campaigns
Traditional marketing - print advertising, direct mail, door hangers
Community events - information tables, sponsorships
School events - information meetings, curriculum night, fundraising events
4. Create a plan
For many school leaders, getting through the first three steps can be the most challenging especially if marketing is a relatively new focus for your school. If necessary, spend time this year evaluating what you are currently doing. As you identify programs which bring success, do more of them. If you find certain programs are not working, look at how you can modify them to increase visibility or consider phasing them out altogether.
Eventually, you will want an annual marketing plan with the following components:
Enrollment goal - include your anticipated retention rate
Timeline - annual calendar which shows when peak enrollment windows occur and which activities are happening at which time
Resources - staff or volunteers
Marketing Toolkit - identify what you should keep, update, create new or remove altogether
Marketing Programs - identify what you should keep, update, create new or remove altogether
Measuring Success - define how you will measure the success of each program and how often you will review these numbers to determine if you are on track to meet your enrollment goal
Join the Discussion
The fundamental purpose of school marketing is about creating value for your families. The higher the perceived value of your program (and we say “perceived” because everyone has a different perception), the more likely you are to hit your target enrollment numbers each year, have low attrition rates and successful word of mouth marketing campaigns.
Have a cool marketing idea to share? We’d love to hear from you!
About the Author
Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.