We work with a lot of independent and private day schools. Be definition, that means that they do not possess any residential enrollment and are therefore deeply tied to the demographic realities of the local and surrounding marketplace to meet their enrollment needs. In fact, their enrollment catchment or service area is directly reliant on the community in which they operate. Wouldn't it make sense that they would operate as an organization deeply tied to the local community since they really are reliant on the market?
Oddly enough, most day schools don't behave in this manner. They have a tendency to operate in isolation, disconnecting with the mainstream culture in their community and creating small islands of culture in the process. Perhaps it is their desire for safety, selectivity, or exclusivity, all attributes that parents selecting their school may pursue for their children at some level. But, from a strategic orientation, it does not make sense that schools can create sustainable enrollment platforms and yet be so isolated in their local communities. Unless the business model for these schools allows for a considerable amount of importing of students through residential programs or online learning, their sustainability relies on the market, no different than a restaurant or car dealership.
Some of our client schools have figured out how to bridge this gap masterfully. In fact, some of them have created a mechanism to make themselves completely indispensable to the local market. They create programs that forge connections to the local community, seeing themselves as a community asset, and developing a more porous campus culture. In the process, they make friends in the community, sit at the table at important civic and policy decisions, and make their community reliant on them as a recruitment and retention asset for business development.
Lessons Learned #4? Cultural insularity is the norm on most day school campuses. And, that creates a real problem not only for sustainability, but for creating and expanding your classroom.