If the number of associations providing professional development and the number of consultants providing services in enrollment management is a sign of the times, then independent schools will continue to struggle in the new normal. Nearly every independent school in America is experiencing a softening of demand, challenges to attrition, and a refocusing of their brand. Sure, the enrollment numbers at many of the more stalwart schools still look fine, but there are signs on the horizon that signal a new normal in strategic enrollment management. And, for sure, one industry response is to become more sophisticated in how we chase markets.
But, is that really the question? Is the best solution for independent school long term sustainability to merely to find better ways to chase the same market? Is it simply about finding more full pay families that want what we have at our schools? I have been on countless campus visits where the client simply wants to better penetrate the existing well educated, suburban, over $150K gross household income family market that seek a safe and rigorous environment. Sure, that is one way to skin the cat, but I think we are missing the point.
I just got done reading "Shoe Dog" by Phil Knight. Yes, I live in the land of Nike in Portland and would admit that my thinking has been influenced positively by their approach. But, remember, Nike first invented the industry of "running for health" before they invented the shoe to fill the market. Running for health and recreation did not exist in the mid 1960's to mid 1970s' until Nike got ahold of it. Nike created a market then filled it with product. Now, that is strategic.
The independent school sector needs to start creating new markets rather than chase the old ones. The old ones are drying up for a reason. Independent schools need to create new markets with new products, services, pricing systems, and means of delivery. Independent colleges and universities already discovered this over a decade or so ago. We need to start thinking innovatively about our independence and how we can leverage that into creating new customer categories.