Strategies to Improve Your Private School’s Retention Rate

As I'm sure you're well aware, retention is one of the most effective strategies for private or independent schools. It has remained one of the most worthwhile uses of a school administration's precious time. You've likely already experienced some of the benefits of retention- like creating a tight-knit community and a reduction in replacement costs. Not to mention the impact that losing a student or family has on your community — it can be difficult for teachers, students, and faculty to see such an integral part of your school family go. It's crucial for your school to keep retention high, but that can be a difficult proposition, especially in times like these. To alleviate some of the stress, we've created a list of proven strategies to combat student attrition.

Reasons Why Retention is Important

Lessen the impact of COVID-19 and the Increase of Non-Traditional Families 

For many schools, COVID-19 has led to a rush of new and non-traditional families enrolling at private and independent schools. Many families jumped from public to private schools in search of in-person instruction for their children, or a better virtual learning environment if in-person still wasn't an option. In a perfect world, you'd want these families to stick around long after the circumstances of COVID have subsided. In order to make that happen, you will need to be vigilant about retention. Have a plan in place to make them want to stay.

Retention is Crucial to Hit Enrollment Goals

In the last few years, independent and private schools have been facing growing competition. Over half of private schools have seen increases in voluntary attrition over the last 3 years, according to a study from the Enrollment Management Association (EMA). As more schools vie for families' attention, you need to ensure you're beating out the competition from the get-go and keeping your families coming back each year. This is the only way you will hit your enrollment goals year after year.

Retention = Financial Sustainability 

Tuition dollars make up a huge percentage of private and independent schools' annual revenue— 70 to 80% on average, according to NBOA. With average attrition rates right around 10%, the average-sized school (around 180 students) will lose 16 to17 students per year. That comes out to a staggering $176,000 per year based on the average annual tuition of $11,000 for an independent K-12 school. Safeguarding enrollment should be at the forefront of your mind, whether you're in the business office, the admissions team or head of the school. 

Attrition Takes a Toll on Your Community 

It can be hard for teachers, students and faculty to see members of your school's family leave, especially when you work so tirelessly to craft a tight-knit community and strong campus culture. These losses add up, and can eventually create an environment of uncertainty that leads others to consider leaving as well.

Steps to Improve Student Retention

While we don't pretend to have all the answers, here are some tried and true methods that many schools have used to successfully raise retention rates. 

Find Out Why Students are Leaving

Analyzing your current enrollment statistics and looking for trends in your attrition rate is an essential first step. Are students leaving after specific grades, or is attrition spread across grade levels? Finding out why parents and students aren't making the transition is essential. Cross-reference changes in your academic or sports program, staff or timetable with the attrition pattern to get an idea of the causes. Use your School Information System's data analytics tool for analyzing such trends.

Analyzing exit surveys or interviews you've conducted with families who have left your school is another crucial way of determining rising attrition rates. Discover why they are exiting and find out where they went. Are there any common trends in the reasoning of these families? If you don't yet have an exit survey, that's something that needs to be implemented ASAP. Many schools have started making exit surveys a requirement listed in enrollment contracts. Another option is to include your exit survey directly on the re-enrollment contract, allowing your parents to answer a few questions when choosing not to re-register their children. And regardless of the cause, when a family meets with a school after deciding to leave, they will leave feeling valued and heard, even if they arrived unhappily. 

Also, don't forget to look at your competition. Families could be leaving your school for what they perceive to be a better option.

Truly Understand Your Families 

All retention strategies start with understanding your families. Actually knowing your families; what their needs are, what they value and why they've stayed is necessary to craft marketing messages that make them realize that your school is the best choice for their kids.
The best organizations really understand their customers. Spending some time creating customer personas allow you to ensure that you are meeting the needs of all of your parents.

Find Out What Drives Families to Enroll at Your School in the First Place

Retention truly begins before a family enrolls, so this data is particularly helpful. Ask incoming families what the most important thing is for them in a school and why they're interested in your school during the admission process. The answers to these questions can help you understand what is actually important to families seeking your school out, so you can focus on showing them ongoing value that is unique to them. Use your student management system's machine learning capabilities to learn about the students who are a good fit in your community and who thrive in your learning environment. Look for applicants who have similar traits. 

Faculty Workshops

Faculty workshops help teachers and other staff recognize signals that a student may be an attrition risk. Use these workshops to share the opportunities and roles available to them, and gather case studies to further strengthen your ongoing retention efforts.

Staff Enrollment Update Newsletters

Create enrollment newsletters to bring teachers and staff into your exciting news, inform them of new programs, let them in on new admission, enrollment, and retention initiatives, and spotlight faculty members who have helped your admission and enrollment efforts. Customize your inquiry form to identify students with specific interests and leverage your school CRM automation tool to automatically connect applicants with faculty with similar interests. For instance, if you have a new inquiry from a student interested in football, customize your information system to initiate an email from the football coach the next day after the submission to start valuable conversations.

Community Service Days

Plan a school outreach or community service day for everyone at your school, staff included. Clean up your town park, plant flowers at a retirement home, volunteer at a food bank; the opportunities here are endless. Gathering your entire school to contribute acts of service to the broader community around you is an incredible way to build a sense of belonging among students.

New Student Lunches

Organize lunches in your admissions office for new students to hang out informally, extending your connection with them. If your school or an individual student is still virtual- send them a gift card or have lunch delivered to their homes and meet over Zoom. Open up the floor and let these new students share the experience of entering your school, ask for tips or advice, or express any changes they would make. Expressing a desire to learn and improve can mean a lot to new students, and may help you avoid unknown issues for the next incoming class. 

Special Financial Aid Funds and Financial Aid Nights 

Offer special financial aid assistance in times of need — whether that be a pandemic, natural disaster, or any other hardship. Giving extra help and addressing financial concerns families face in difficult seasons can go a long way in ensuring they return to your school. Funds don't have to be years long; they may be a one-time gift. But lending a helping hand to struggling families will give them time to recover. Hosting financial aid nights and inviting returning families who have voiced a need for some extra financial help is a great way to implement this strategy. Consider implementing Peer-to-Peer fundraising software, allowing families or students to raise funds from their various social circles both inside and out of the school community.  

Parent Ambassador Programs

An organized ambassador program for parents is an excellent way to harness their unique power- and it certainly doesn't just benefit your school during the enrollment process. Parents often have the time, drive and an inside perspective to offer your school's other families in moments when you might not. Involving parents also gives them an important role to play and ensures they feel like the crucial part of the community you know they are. People that feel valued tend to stick around. Consider implementing community pages managed by parent volunteers to share events and news directly through your parent and student portals.

State of School Event or Letter

Share how your school is performing through events or a formal letter. Families are eager to know about your school. They've invested their time and money, and trust you with their child. Share where you are at, unpack more about your school's health and clue them into any exciting news. Announce when enrollments are up, explain any new programs as they become available and let them in on your new initiatives. The more they know, the more connected they'll feel to your school.

In Conclusion

There are countless ways your school can drive up retention, here are just a few strategies that have seen success in the past. At the end of the day, it really comes down to how well you know your staff, students and families. Know your school's mission like the back of your hand, and try to crack why families find it so valuable. Keep up with enrollment trends, staying up to date with your own school's and your competitors'. Above all else, strive to connect with your students and your families a little more every day. 

For more strategies on how to improve student retention and anything beyond, reach out to PCR Educator today.

See also
Grade Level    School Info    Campaign    Staff    Fund    Ask    DAT   
PCR Educator K-12 School Information System is an online database engineered for independent and private schools to deliver the highest level of flexibility, unique experience, transparent communication and customized design. Being a complete cloud-based solution, PCR Educator system guarantees convenient access anytime, anywhere.

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