In most independent schools, the enrollment management operation relies on one or two programs that generate demand and convert into enrollment. These "feeder grades" are often entry points, such as preschool, kindergarten, first grade, sixth, and ninth grade. And, when you rely on a small amount of entry points, you often die by the same equation. When demand goes down in those areas it impacts the entire enrollment program. As part of our current blog series "Financial Forces and Their Impact on Indy Schools", let's focus on how increasing and diversifying the number of access points might serve to balance the budget and increase the footprint and impact of a school in a community.
Before we move forward, though, we need to suspend or eliminate a prevailing assumption at most schools. Students do not have to be full time, high price customers to receive the benefit of a school programs and services. We often run into this widely held assumption that unless a student is enrolled full time in a full tuition paying grade level, attending classes all day, they will not receive the benefit of the school mission. I don't believe that research would support this assumption and believe that most schools that believe in this manner are stopping short of living up to their full mission potential.
Here are three ways we think that independent schools could overcome financial stress points by increasing and diversifying their access points. You might have more, but we have seen these three work effectively for our clients.
Increase and Diversify Access Points > If demand for full time, full tuition paying consumers, it is likely that indy schools are going to need to increase and diversify their access points. This means diving into "lighter" versions of their programs that afford more students a taste of what they offer at a lower price and expense point. This might mean developing a Saturday Scholars program for the cities best and brightest public school scholars, or a evening intensive on a robotics for STEAM oriented students in the community. These access points should be diverse, accessible, and link to your school strengths.
Develop a Gateway Drug or Killer App > If the iPod was the gateway drug to the Apple ecosystem and iTunes, what might be your killer app? We have see schools organize around really strong programs to create a signature area of focus and then offer it online, on the weekend, over the summer, or during anytime where physical plant capacity are not optimized. Remember, Apple really does not care which product you buy; they simply want you on their ecosystem of iTunes and the App Store where you will likely upgrade software which means, in time, more hardware upgrades.
Develop an Ecosystem of Programs > Independent schools need to think more like a university than a school. A university is - by definition - a collection or portfolio of schools and colleges. Independent schools also need to develop an ecosystem of programs at different price points, offerings, and time so that a higher percentage of people in the market can access their services. And, each of these programs need to be complimentary to the mission of the school and to each other. Most importantly, it becomes really important that each or any of these programs don't cannibalize the existing full-time program.
If you really believe the world would be a better place if more people had access to your mission, the reason to grow is to achieve greater accessibility. Independent schools would be served well to become more porous and accessible organizations in their local communities. We really believe that increasing and diversifying access points can drive schools to greater financial sustainability.