ISA wishes you the very best of the holiday season. In an effort to afford ourselves the opportunity to refresh and reflect, ISA will be closed from December 21st through January 3rd. During this time, ISA staff members will be checking email, voicemail, and our Basecamp collaboration feeds only periodically. We wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season and look forward to our work together in the New Year!
Among the many pressures felt by school leadership and trustees, those related to enrollment feasibility and pricing strategy are omnipresent and confusing. Over the last ten-plus years, schools have often come to our firm asking for research and consulting related to market demand, enrollment capacity, and tuition setting, but never with the frequency that we have seen over the last year.
Why the increase?
After the economic crisis of 2008, many schools went into “emergency mode”, offering financial band-aids for current families and creating new financial assistance policies on the fly to attract and support new students. With the best interests of the institution and families in mind, of course, schools attempted to protect enrollment numbers while securing employment for faculty and staff. It was difficult to put much forethought into how long the increased need would last, and it was hard to know how long it would take for the economy to recuperate. Now that the economy is (seemingly) on surer footing, schools are cleaning up from the downturn, and are revisiting conversations about strategy, budgeting, capacity, and possible shrinkage or expansion. As schools recover, questions about pricing and market demand are taking the front seat in a new way.
It is no secret that schools are living a “new normal” when it comes to enrollment strategy and pricing models. We are long past the days when a standard percentage tuition increase covered all of the needs of a school, when attrition remained steady year over year, and full classes with waitlists were the norm. Schools all over the country, including areas of historical high demand like New York, San Francisco, DC, and Baltimore are seeing inconsistent inquiry numbers, less secure yield, and ping-ponging attrition rates. In order to plan effectively and responsibly, enrollment feasibility work is becoming part of the new normal, rather than the exception to the rule.
It can be overwhelming to manage the research required to make sound decisions, but it is imperative that schools do this deep thinking and planning to ensure the long term sustainability of their institutions.
What's trending now? Ian's SAIS Keynote talk that outlined seven major shifts and trends in education was delivered in October 2015 in Atlanta and is now available on YouTube. Feel free to watch the 45 minute talk in a three part video presentation, available here or on our Resources page.
Last month I had the distinct and distinguished opportunity to deliver the opening keynote talk at the SAIS Annual Conference in Atlanta. Flanked with roughly 400 heads of school, top administrators, and board members, I spoke about our #edutrendingnow campaign and proceeded to outline the seven major trends that we are seeing from this research. Reflecting now on that talk, I realize that there was an eighth trend that I wished I would have shared.
The often misunderstood and over-researched Millennial generation is having a profound impact on the ways in which marketers and planners go about their business. And, that is because Millennials go about their business differently than most generations before them. That is not unusual - most generations buck the trends set before them. So, why is this group different? I'n not exactly sure, but my guess is that it has something to do with the fact that the Millennial generation tends not only to go in a different direction than previous generations, but they often go in completely the opposite direction.
And, such is the case with their relentless search for simplicity. We are noticing a profound shift in the consumer patterns of an emerging generation that wants less, not more. They prefer depth over coverage, and are less impressed with material satisfaction and flash and more interested in relationships and connection. They are unlike their previous young adults bent on accumulation of material goods. Overall, they look more like a "back to the basics" approach to living, where one needs a smaller house, more efficient cars, and living an energy efficient and waste reducing lifestyle. They are highly environmentally conscious, not because it is cool, but because it is simple.
I am going to call this eighth trend "The Search for Simplicity". Marketers and planners need to really understand this trend and its significant impact on their activity, from creating products and services that appeal to this consumer to how to better communicate with them. My guess is that this trend is only the beginning of a sea change in consumer behavior. Just ask REI and their #optoutside campaign.
Share your thoughts below. We will be highly interested in your take.
The PDF file and slide deck from Kelly Laboe's Driving Demand presentation at last weeks Washington Federation of Independent Schools Private School day is now posted and live. It can be found under the speaking engagements section of our Resources page.
Registration is open for the 2016 National Business Officers Association meeting in Los Angeles. The event will be held February 21-24, 2016 at the J.W. Marriott LA Live. Ian will join renown speakers, including Sal Khan, thought leader and founder of Khan Academy, as well as writer and explorer Alison Levine. Check out the pre conference video above and we hope to see you in LA.
Ian's keynote talk at the SAIS Annual Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Atlanta on Sunday was on the topic of our crowdsourcing educational trends campaign. If you would like to watch the entire video from the talk, it was captured from head of school Jason Walton at Jackson Prep and is available here on Periscope. A PDF file of the slides is also available here.
Ian is speaking today at the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Feel free to download Ian's PDF file from his keynote talk here. Feel free to share the file with colleagues and social media. ISA retains the copyrights to all materials published with the lighthouse logo.
When I grew up in a small town in Central Illinois, my neighborhood friends were as close to me as family. We experienced everything together. The same kids that I played ball with at night were the same students I walked to school with in the morning. We played, laughed, studied, and moved through life's transitions together. My friend nucleus was primarily located in a six block radius of my neighborhood. That was my frame of reference, my universe, until I reached high school and began to travel extensively for athletics. My closest relationships tended to live close to my house.
Sitting through literally thousands of listening sessions and focus groups with students and parents of independent schools across the country over the past decade or more has taught me a lot about the nature of our changing school world. It struck me this past week that the frame of reference for young people is much more diverse, fragmented, and pluralistic than my experiences. Their neighborhood has moved from their home to the digital world, to their clubs and activities, and to their respective independent school relationships with friends. Their context for friendships and relationships is a far more geographically diverse canvas, where they may share their closest relationships online (notice I don't say virtual, because that would imply they are not real, and they are), on the bus, in the car, at church, at club soccer, at school, and finally, in their home neighborhood. Interestedly, few students I interview claim to have close relationships in their own local community, in their own neighborhood where they live. For most students, that is where they eat and sleep, and not much more. They don't go to school with these kids, so why would they establish close relationships with them?
It strikes me that we have a tough challenge in front of us as school leaders as we try to build community at our schools. We are competing with geographically broad and distributed relationships, attention spans, and allegiances. Our consumers want community with us, actually desperately seek community from our schools, perhaps because they don't have what we once had in America. Perhaps they are seeking that place of solace, comfort, and connection that we once found in our own bedroom communities just 30 years ago. They long for connection with similar-valued parents and students whose goals are naturally aligned with their goals for their family and children, just like my parents had friends in our own neighborhood growing up. And, as a result they look to independent schools to help them fill that need.
How is your school responding to the challenges of the new neighborhood?
The Valley School in Seattle has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning services. Our work will commence in December and continue through the completion of the school year. Founded in 1985, The Valley School is a progressive, pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, independent school that carefully attends to the individual development of children through intellectual exploration, community, and play. Valley believes childhood is to be celebrated rather than rushed. It is a special time of exploration, unsuppressed creativity, friendship, and wonder. By understanding and respecting childhood, children —brimming with curiosity and imagination—grow into whole-hearted learners, practiced in thoughtful inquiry and critical thinking.
Woodland Presbyterian School in Memphis, Tennessee launched an ambitious strategic plan this month. After eight months of thoughtful, research-informed planning, Woodland has created a state-of-the-art strategic plan that will advance the school well into its next chapter. This was perhaps the most comprehensive strategic planning process that the school has undertaken in recent history.
Over the past fifty-seven years Woodland Presbyterian School has educated thousands of students and has prepared graduates for success far beyond her walls. Historically, graduates attend the best independent and public high schools in the Memphis area, and Woodland alumni have been honored as valedictorians and salutatorians at their respective high schools. After attending the best colleges and universities, these students have gone on to become professionals worldwide, including business executives, teachers, doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, and public servants. Woodland continues to provide a school experience that makes a lifelong difference in the lives of our students and prepares them for a world that is constantly changing.
To download a copy of the Woodland strategic plan, please click here to access the file in PDF file format.
Battle Ground Academy, a comprehensive independent school located in Franklin, Tennessee, has launched a landmark strategic plan. The school spent the 2014-15 academic year deep in strategic planning with ISA, developing an innovative and ambitious plan for the future. Battle Ground Academy launched the plan this month, after unanimous approval from the steering committee and the board of trustees. Please click here to download a PDF copy of the plan.
Battle Ground Academy is a unique environment: a school that provides a state-of-the-art, 21st century education in the context of the incredibly rich and vibrant traditions that only 125 years of independent school education can bring.
Character, Scholarship, and Excellence comprise a framework for BGA's educational approach. Whether it is through the Honor Code that holds their students to a high standard of personal integrity or the engaging challenges that students meet in the classroom, the art studio, or the athletic field, these three characteristics have distinguished a BGA education and BGA graduates since the school’s inception in 1889.
September is the season for strategic plan launches, and ISA has completed several over the past year that are in the process of being shared with school and college communities. Our long-time client, Jackson Prep (MS), just launched their strategic plan this past month to great fanfare. The plan - "Cultivating Unrivaled Excellence" - is a deep and ambitious plan that will take Jackson Prep into unchartered territory as a independent school leader in the Southeast. You can download the plan here.
Ian will be keynoting on the topic of "Why Africa - Why KUZA" at the annual Party with a Purpose fundraiser on October 24th at the LeftBank Annex in Portland, Oregon. KUZA is our current organizational #JustCause client, a Portland-based non-profit with which we have had the opportunity to serve for over two years. KUZA improves the lives of students, families, and communities in Uganda through higher education and leadership development. For more information, watch the short video clip above or visit KUZA on the web.
The Virginia Association of Independent Schools has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning services. Our work will commence this academic year. We are delighted to welcome VAIS to our client community, joining several other associations.
The Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) was established at Charlottesville, VA on April 30, 1973, through the merger of the Virginia Association of Preparatory Schools and the Virginia Association of Independent Elementary Schools. VAIS is a non-profit, voluntary membership association of schools that share compatible philosophies and goals.
VAIS is a service organization that promotes educational, ethical and professional excellence. Since its founding, the stated purposes of the Association have been to promote the well-being of and public regard for independent schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia; to safeguard the interests of these schools in matters of legislation and regulation; to act as an evaluating and accrediting organization for independent schools in Virginia; to foster mutually beneficial relations with the Virginia State Department of Education and other educational agencies; to assist member schools in maintaining standards of excellence; to encourage activities and to exchange information about new methodologies and practices; and to provide community service and leadership.
Saint James School in Montgomery, Alabama has selected ISA for research and strategic planning services. Our work with the independent school will commence in October and November.
Saint James is an independent, nonsectarian, college preparatory school with a student body broadly representative of college-bound students. The school is committed to challenging and assisting students in realizing their individual potential and preparing them for lives of responsibility, service, and achievement. Recently, Saint James School has been named an Apple Distinguished School, a title reserved for learning institutions displaying innovation, leadership and educational excellence. All Saint James Middle School students receive iPads and high school students receive MacBook Airs. In the early grades, Saint James pre-school and elementary students have ready access to iPod Touches, iPads, and MacBooks.
As a result of its technology program, Saint James is the only school in Alabama to offer students unique electives that introduce them to college studies before they ever even graduate from high school. Students may select from one of 15 “pre-college major” electives, such as Robotics and Pre- Engineering, Pre-Law, Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, Music Technology, and Graphic Design.
The French American School of Puget Sound has selected ISA to conduct and complete strategic planning during the 2015-16 academic year. We will commence our work together in September.
The French American School of Puget Sound (FASPS) offers a dual language program in French and English that exposes students from YPK to Grade 8 to the best of the French and American educational systems. The school is accredited by the French Ministry of Education, which ensures that the program aligns with French national objectives pedagogically, procedurally, and practically. Students who leave FASPS are able to attend accredited French schools in France or anywhere else in the world.
FASPS is no stranger to ISA. We completed a highly successful strategic plan for the school just five years ago which drove the school financially and pragmatically. We are excited to get back on campus to partner again with this outstanding school.
What environmental trends or market forces are you experiencing? And, what's the impact on your planning and strategy for the upcoming year? Take the time to share so that others can benefit.
We just launched the #edutrendingnow campaign designed to uncover the latest and most relevant trends impacting our clients. Throughout the year, we will feature this content in our blog posts and various talks with regional and national associations throughout the country. Here are two ways you can contribute;
- Jump over to the #edutrendingnow page, read the instructions, and post your thoughts.
- Tweet your trends using the hashtag #edutrendingnow and tag @symmonds in the process.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
This fall we are excited to launch a new campaign - #edutrendingnow - that we hope will reveal even more insight to those who value data-driven decision making. ISA has always been interested in cultural shifts, societal inflection points, and educational trends. Our research has historically identified major shifts and trends in the landscape of education and culture. And, we have made it our business to share these trends with others through our white papers, presentations, and blog entries
What shifts are occurring in your curriculum planning? How are you using technology to deliver education differently than just a few years ago? What changes are you detecting in your student recruitment and retention analysis? Are there changes in the demographic trends in your marketplace? These are just some of the questions with which all independent schools and colleges are grappling during their summer analysis and year planning.
Here's how #edutrendingnow works. You can choose to do any of the following.
Identify a major shift or trend that is happening right now in your school or college in one of five areas: learning and curriculum, marketing, enrollment management, demographics, or technology.
Share that trend by posting it as a comment to this blog below. Be sure to identify yourself, including name, title, and school or college.
Post that trend using the hashtag #edutrendingnow on your favorite mainstream social media.
Share a link to this blog post with other colleagues so that we may benefit from their collective wisdom. Click on the "share" button below this post.
Here's what ISA will do with the content generated by #edutrendingnow.
Share and publish a new series of updated trends throughout the year.
Provide feedback and counsel on creative ways to address the trends identified.
Focus Ian's keynote speaking engagements this year on the content generated, sharing new trends along the way.
Give institutional credit for the content generated.
We all seek to benefit from our collective wisdom. Tell us what is #edutrendingnow by commenting below. We look forward to hearing from you!
Our family just hosted a garage sale. Yes, a garage sale, that American, homegrown, one-of-a-kind, iconic, neighborhood tradition. I'm not a big fan of garage sales as they take a lot of work and patience. But, it has been about a decade since our last one, we have a ton of stuff from raising two nearly grown girls, and my wife is a taskmaster. It made sense to have a garage sale and I reluctantly agreed to look at it from an optimistic opportunity to learn more about people and culture.
I sat quietly and interacted intermittently with our makeshift retail establishment visitors over a two day period. Lisa, my wife and CEO of the garage sale, was really in charge and managed the affair. I learned a lot, though, from what I witnessed during our garage sale. And, I think these takeaways tell us as a lot about people and culture today that can be applied to our thinking about schools and colleges.
- People Want Community. People seek to belong to a community and connect with each other. I would estimate that 80% of the people coming to the garage sale were there to meet us and connect as much as shop for something. Sure, they shopped for stuff, but I got the sense that it was connection that they sought as much as anything.
- People Like Diversity. Every walk of life entered our storefront. If you have seen the show "Portlandia" on television, then you might be able to imagine the diversity of our retail visitors. We connected with wealthy, poor, and middle class people. Every car from luxury autos to old beaters pulled up in front of our house. At least four different languages were spoken outside of English. Diversity did not scare people - they embraced it.
- Sustainability is Not New. A garage sale is among the oldest forms of entrepreneurial sustainability. Had our spring and summer cleaning been up to me, we would have taken all of our stuff to Goodwill, Northwest Children's Outreach, and then to the landfill. Sure, we will still take many things for gift-in-kind donations to our favorite charities, but with a garage sale we had the opportunity to see several features of sustainability come to life. Reuse. Recirculate. Redistribute. Repurpose. Reconnect. What was old for us was new for someone else. There was an economic exchange - albeit small - and, more importantly, a cultural exchange. We got to know our neighbors - and their dogs - and our extended Garden Home community in Southwest Portland much better. Sustainability is not new. It is simple.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." This old line is very true. I learned a lot from our garage sale. No, I would rather not host one for awhile again. Another decade will be fine for me. But, it was a great experience, thanks to my wife, who is organized and energetic about such things. More importantly, I had the opportunity to witness some simple and basic axioms about people and culture that apply to nearly every aspect of my work. People want community, embrace diversity more than we think, and sustainability is much more simple than we give it credit.