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 22nd through January 5th. 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!
The notion of integrated marketing has been around for long time. In the education sector, we have been using this language for at least 15 years, first at the higher education level followed by the primary/secondary sector. I am still surprised how many schools and colleges fail to meet this simple test on their marketing message with so many tools at their disposal.
The theory integrated marketing, in the simplest of terms, means "no matter the medium, the message and design of delivery does not change". In practice, this means that websites, push emails, social media, print media, advertising, and all other collateral have a matching set of messages and design. It starts with a clear positioning platform, set of key messages, and an effective design palette - led by a clear graphic identity - that is coordinated through all media. One of the great advantages of integrated marketing is that it promotes a "one voice" impact for an organization. It promotes simplicity and synchronicity of message to ensure that your organization is experienced by audiences the same way through all media.
Make practicing integrated marketing a priority with your organization. Your audiences will appreciate the ability to recognize your brand easily. And, with all of the tools available today, it should be the most cost effective and foundational effort in your marketing program.
We have been pouring through research and trends for our independent schools and colleges lately. As a result, we have a neat, tidy list of recent trends that we believe are relevant and defining for independent schools and colleges today. We thought we would pass them on to you and encourage you to comment or share as you wish.
1) When the economy goes South, consumers delay the decision to purchase private education. And, even though education generally performs well in recessionary times, we've seen a lot of delay in consumer decisions lately.
2) Consumers are seeing increased stratification of educational offerings, driving price down and choices up, between MOOC's, online platforms, and hybrid offerings.
3) Young, entrepreneurial professionals continue to dwindle in numbers occupying seats around boardroom or governance tables, seeking other venues for their more action-oriented approach to socially-conscious venues to make a difference.
4) Competitive pricing and aid models remain the holy grail of independent education, with no real revolution or innovation in this financial model in two decades.
5) Students are more politically active and socially engaged in issues that define their generation that just a decade or more ago.
6) Curriculum remains incongruent with solving the issues of our times. The global challenges of 2020 don't seem well reflected in our curriculum.
7) The jury is still out on the best way to teach students, with no obvious prevailing educational philosophy taking the lead role in education.
8) With a tough economy and more lower cost choices in the marketplace, "good is good enough" is becoming a common prevailing consumer philosophy.
9) The marketing game continues to be more about flash than substance, showing us getting attention is far more important than delivering content.
10) The classroom and its walls are exploding, with new tools, fewer walls, and more global influence than ever before.
idwell Friends School in Washington, DC has completed and launched their new strategic plan. "Lead in the Light: Empowering Students to Let Their Lives Speak" is an ambitious plan for the school and lays out the priorities for Sidwell Friends over the next five to seven years. ISA worked with Sidwell Friends School over the past 15 months to construct this strategic plan.
The plan places students firmly at the center of goals designed to enhance the school's ability to deliver Quaker education in the nation’s capital at this particular moment in history. Developed in response to the School's extraordinary opportunity to purchase property next to our campus, the strategic plan consists of four goals: 1) Unify the Campus, 2) Imagine the Future of Learning, 3) Inspire Ethical Leadership, and 4) Welcome a Wider Community.
We are very excited about this strategic plan and congratulate the school on the completion of a remarkable process. To view or download the strategic plan, please visit the Sidwell Friends School Strategic Plan website or visit our Work page.
I’m increasingly convinced that what is being passed off as innovative in our top prep schools is not much more than incremental improvements. As a cohort it turns out that we have historically been pretty good at high quality education. However, the single largest threat facing our best prep schools is not how to teach students but how to reach students. Ultimately, it is about access, delivery, and the interdependency of the financial model. The future will demand that our independent and private schools are smaller, more focused, and more innovative in their delivery and financial models. There are few, if any, schools today that are not experiencing declines in demand, tuition revenue, and a softening of giving. The writing is on the wall.
Looking for a simple yet thorough explanation of strategic enrollment management? Look no further. Here is our easy to understand guide to the systems approach to managing enrollment, revenue, financial aid, and the life cycle of students at your school. We created this model for use in conference presentations and enrollment management bootcamps for several associations and find it useful as an organizing set of principles.
Most of us tend to think of the term “admissions” when we describe the active efforts of creating a sustainable enrollment for a school or college. However, this term - and its definition and core function - are really quite limiting in terms of what is required to build sustainable enrollment at tuition driven independent schools and colleges. “Admissions” really only describes the process of entry into a school or college, rather that the activity that was needed to create that enrollment interest or sustain the enrollment in the school.
About 20 years ago, the concept of strategic enrollment management was created at the higher education level, giving birth to a new way of viewing admission work from a systems approach. About 10 years ago, this system was largely adopted by relatively successful, mature, and forward thinking independent schools as a way to develop an integrated approach to cultivating and sustaining a suitable enrollment body. The system has seven critical components, each working together as a system to forge a sustainable enrollment platform. The following is a brief description of each function and how it contributes to the larger ecosystem of strategic enrollment management.
Recruitment - For tuition-driven schools and colleges, generating suitable demand is the most critical function of sustainable enrollment. We call this function “demand generation”, which translates into the creation of inquiries, applications, and visits to campus. Without these elements, the school does not have a suitable enrollment from which to work.
Admissions - Admission is literally the process of entry into a school or college. Similar to being admitted to a hospital, it is the process of entry into an organization. Admissions is typically defined by the systematic gathering of information that contributes to a candidate’s portfolio for consideration for entry.
Financial Aid and Net Revenue - Financial aid is the strategic use of unfunded or funded financial assistance as a method of generating revenue, sustaining enrollment, and creating access. It takes many forms, from merit to need based, and is used in strategic enrollment management as a tool to create and sustain mission appropriate student enrollment with revenue assumptions. Most independent schools practicing strategic enrollment management set priorities on financial aid as a system, seeking to accomplish one of three objectives with their expenditures, including 1) filling unused capacity to generate revenue, 2) shape their class with specific types of students, or 3) provide access to underrepresented populations in the community.
Information Management and Tracking - Sound information management and tracking of strategic enrollment management efforts is the backbone of this system. This includes using an information system that is shared school wide, tracking students through the “input - throughput - output” lifecycle of the school, and creating insightful reports that inspire responsive activity.
Marketing Communications - The act of generating and sustaining interest and demand in the market requires effective marketing communications. This is the area where brand, identity, and communication planning intersect with enrollment management work. For this reason, most schools utilize more than just the admissions team in their strategic enrollment management program as it requires collaboration across divisions, with shared responsibilities and roles in marketing communications and advancement areas.
Retention - It is often easier to keep a student than recruit a new one. Retention is the systematic analysis and development of managing students once they are enrolled in the school. It is again a collaborative effort across school divisions, requiring input and insight from academic leaders throughout the organization. Retention also requires excellent tracking systems so that student and parent behavior indicating potential attrition can be tracked and responded to accordingly.
Research and Analysis - Finally, strategic enrollment management requires that there is a steady research and analysis function present in team efforts. Strategic enrollment management deals with the systematic tracking of human behavior, and thus requires a steady review and analysis of activity so that schools and teams are making wise choices in their efforts.
Strategic enrollment management is an integrated system that works together to form a powerful tool of creating the input, sustaining the throughput, and developing the output of school enrollment, all the while managing revenue and capacity assumptions. And, at the most basic of levels, strategic enrollment management is about removing unnecessary barriers and creating client-centered incentives toward persistence in the input, throughput, and output process.
Armed with a newly completed campus and facilities, Marburn Academy in Columbus, Ohio recently launched their completed strategic plan in October. A member of the ISA client community, the school has been working on their plan throughout the 2016-17 academic year. To view a complete version of the plan, click here to download the PDF file.
Marburn Academy is a not-for-profit, independent day school devoted to serving the educational needs of bright students with learning differences such as Dyslexia, Executive Function difficulties and attention issues. Marburn is the only school in Central Ohio with academic and co-curricular programs designed to address the full range of unique learning and personal development needs of students with these learning differences. Opened with 12 students, Marburn now educates over 300 students year-round.
Marburn Academy is one of only 14 schools in the nation to have its language instruction program accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). Marburn Academy is also recognized as an approved provider for the Ohio Jon Peterson and Autism Scholarship Programs.
Ian delivered the keynote address this morning at the Sacred Heart Network Education conference in St. Charles, Missouri, He spoke before heads of school and board chairs from around the Sacred Heart network on the topic of "marketing the mission." His presentation contained a focus on three elements, including 1) strategic enrollment management, 2) the future of education, and 3) marketing the mission of the network. His presentation will be available in video soon and the digital copy of the Keynote can be found here.
We are excited to welcome Montessori Community School in Durham, North Carolina as they have selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategy consulting. Kelly Laboe, consulting associate, will lead the project, assisted by Ian. The school joins a strong network of ISA clients in the Raleigh-Durham area and the NCAIS region.
Montessori Community School is home to students, ages 18 months to 14 years. Their campus is set on 14 acres of natural landscape that lends itself to a Montessori environment. Located on the border between Durham and Chapel Hill, the school offers children in toddler to our adolescent program wonderful indoor and outdoor spaces where they can work, play, discover, and learn.
September is always a busy month for our team, as we launch strategic planning processes for clients across the nation. In the past three weeks, we have seen launches for schools and colleges in Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Dallas, San Antonio, Nashville, and Bend. Each school and college has their own unique context and culture, creating a series of unique challenges and opportunities. When you see a lot of schools, you learn a lot about what's working and not.
Here's the bad news about our future. Independent schools are declining in demand. The ultra high cost and low volume model, subsidized with high amounts of financial aid and large expectations on philanthropy is a threatened business model. I don't see any major innovations or disruptions in the model in the future. While we have been better as a cohort at adopting new ways to teach and learn, evolve the classroom, and become more student-centered, we are not making those strides in creating financially sound futures.
And, here's the good news. These schools are independent! They enjoy their own mission, values, and distinct educational philosophy. Our independent schools are not bound to any specific business model. We can unleash the creativity that we have historically provided our students and create a new paradigm that will serve our students well into the future.
I am calling on our independence as our greatest strength. I am bullish on the future of our industry. We have some tough challenges ahead but I believe we can - and will - create a new business model that will allow us to not just survive - but thrive - in the future.
Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee has launched their strategic plan. CPA 2022 - A Framework for the Future is an ambitious, exciting look at the future of this innovative, comprehensive academy in Nashville. We worked with CPA throughout the 2016-17 academic year and completed the strategic plan in the summer 2017. Congratulations to the CPA Lions for an extraordinary process and promising plan!
Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning during the current academic year. The school initially joined our client family this summer while completing a research-based strategic planning process. Celebrating 40 years in the East Bay community of Berkeley, California, Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley provides a unique Preschool to 8th Grade bilingual program that develops students into curious, confident and creative learners. With an international curriculum taught daily in English and French plus a language instruction in Spanish and Mandarin, the EB experience is a springboard for a global perspective.
Austin Montessori School in Austin, Texas has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning. Our work will commence this winter and move throughout the academic year. Austin Montessori provides an integrated, inclusive, highly personalized educational environment for children from 18 months to 15 years old. Individual classes are specially designed to meet the developmental needs of the age range they serve. Austin Montessori is internationally known in Montessori circles as an exemplary school, and it regularly hosts teachers-in-training and other Montessori professionals who come to observe or to attend workshops. Austin Montessori School is the oldest and largest Austin area school recognized by AMI.
Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates as their strategic planning partner. Hackley School is an independent, college-preparatory, nonsectarian, day and boarding school for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Founded in 1899, Hackley became co-educational in 1970. We are excited to welcome them to our client family.
The age old question facing private colleges, universities, and schools has always been "when are we going to hit the wall on price?" Or, better yet, "when will we completely price ourselves out of the market?" As part of our current blog series "Financial Forces and Their Impact on Indy Schools", let's focus on how our approach to pricing might just need to change in the future.
The soaring cost of independent education has been the achilles heal of our industry sector for a long time. If the issue of pricing has been with us for awhile, why have we failed to address it? We have seen evidence of it everywhere, from widespread adoption of tuition discounting, tuition payment plans, declining demand, and decreasing selectivity among some of our finest and most established schools and colleges. I don't think we need more evidence.
Our business model has long been a high price/low volume enterprise. And, by that very definition, independent education at the preschool, elementary, and secondary level has historically been a luxury item, available only to a very small percentage of consumers. The very nature of independent education has been one of selection, in both the genres of consumers that have sought it out, and the decisions that the admissions committees have made toward their enrollment.
Oddly enough, however, the intrinsic educational values of independent schools are not in sync with their business models. Most independent schools and colleges wish to be more diverse, inclusive, and accessible, yet their pricing and delivery models offer far to many hurdles to really make good on these goals, unless they have a large endowment to fully fund financial aid. And, while we are speaking of endowments, it is important to note that they are extremely difficult to grow in this time and age.
Time is catching up to the industry. Just like every other industry, we are seeing lower cost yet high quality versions of our enterprise ramping up. Online learning, hybrid programs, flex scheduling, and micro schools often get the most attention, but there are sure to be others. In a very short period of time, I would expect that we will continue to see growth in those very segments while independent education - as the business model stands today - stagnates or declines in demand.
The card in the industry deck to play is to begin diversifying the pricing model. Independent schools can continue to offer full-time, high cost/low volume programs but should not expect them to drive their finances. They have to find new delivery options that drive new revenue streams. Just like their college counterparts which cannot drive revenue through high priced, undergraduate, residential education, independent schools will need to offer programs that promote different access points and delivery mechanisms, further diversifying their enrollment and revenue stream.
Most indicators tell us that the future of independent education will closely mirror the challenges in other industry sectors, such as retail, transportation, and entertainment. These include public demand for alternative delivery models, lower cost yet high quality alternatives, and hybrid approaches to teaching and learning using an evolving classroom model. The schools that are in current leadership roles - with healthy enrollment, strong fiscal management, deep demand, and high public respect - may be the ones that actually possess the brand, capacity, and competency to initially meet and win share of the changing needs of the marketplace. Others will compete in specific ways, but they will need to differentiate by specializing in a distinct offering, program, or service.
The market and the consumer are both changing quickly. The expectation among consumers will continue to favor flexibility, lower cost, and high quality. The market opportunity lies with the independent schools that can be flexible enough to deliver it.
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.
Edison High School seeks a passionate educator, experienced leader, and innovative thinker to step into the challenging role of President. Edison High School will look to the new President to further strengthen its sense of community and to enhance communication among faculty, students, parents, and alumni families. The school will look for someone who models an unconditional acceptance and respect of the differences in others, as well as a commitment to playing an integral role in the greater community. Edison’s president will play an active leadership role in development and fundraising, including solicitation of major gifts, and cultivation of relationships with the school’s supporters and potential supporters.
Edison High School, located in Beaverton, Oregon, empowers students with learning differences to experience academic success and personal growth while preparing them for the future. Edison is guided by a set of student-centered core values characterized by attunement, collaboration, dedication, accessibility and organization. Edison students become future-ready.
Edison High School is the only high school in Oregon and Southwest Washington dedicated to serving students with complex learning differences or learning disabilities. Because no two students are alike, Edison takes a customized approach to learning, o ering individual attention when and where it is needed. Within a small and supportive academic environment, students develop strong
relationships with faculty members who become familiar with their learning styles. Edison students gain self-discipline and organizational skills, practice self-advocacy, and build confidence in their ability to learn alongside their academic studies. The school’s work is powerful and profound, helping every student to reach his or her full potential.
As a small private school, Edison High School offers an individualized curriculum that meets each student’s unique needs while maximizing their ability to learn. Edison also provides emotional support that builds confidence and maturity in its students. By empowering students with learning differences to experience academic success and personal growth, Edison does more than prepare
teens for the future: it changes lives.
ISA is handling this search exclusively for Edison High School. Questions regarding the search will only be accepted by Kelly Laboe at Ian Symmonds & Associates, www.iansymmonds.com, KBLaboe@gmail.com, 503.843.8300. Download a full position description here.
In nearly every independent school or college market in which we provide services, I am reminded regularly about the redundancy of similar services and programs. While there is clear data that supports a nationwide decline in the enrollment in and demand for independent schools, why is it that indy schools continue to operate programs that are so similar to their competitors? As part of our current blog series "Financial Forces and Their Impact on Indy Schools", let's focus on how market collaboration might be one lever that our schools could pull to lessen the financial challenges they face.
Let's start with a series of strategic questions. Suppose in our example you work for an independent school in a mid-sized metropolitan area that features three total independent schools, one large parochial school, and several niche schools.
--Does every school have to have their own business office?
--Could core outsource services be centralized, such as cleaning, grounds, etc?
--Do all three independent schools need to have state-of-the-art athletic facilities?
--Does each school have to be a leader in STEAM?
OK. You get my drift. As a cohort, we have a serious strategic financial problem with adding expense. We continue, year after year, to add cost and pass the expense on to the consumer, assuming that they will choose our school over a very similar one across town that has the same programs, similar facilities, and comparative quality. This problem continues to plague our industry and we have yet to make the necessary changes to our offerings.
Is it possible that these three hypothetical independent schools are actually peers, not competitors, and could strengthen each of their own financial circumstances if they started working together on market collaboration? What if they viewed themselves as part of a larger ecosystem of offerings, similar to the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, finding ways to eliminate redundancy in offerings and centralize some redundant services and programs? I really believe the future is going to force schools to collaborate on cost containment, market share, and collectively deciding which school is going to distinguish themselves for specific and signature programs. We need to stop competing with each other and start collaborating as peers.
I'm really sorry to say this, but the last time I checked, independent schools and colleges have historically been pretty solid at the whole teaching and learning paradigm. Not that we can't improve - we can and we should. But, our teaching and learning environment is not an existential issue threatening our very sustainability. It actually turns out to be a strength.
Our financial context is our existential threat. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the calm before the financial storm in the private school industry. For independent schools, I believe we are in the early stages of a redefined industry. All of the indicators would tell us that independent schools are a declining industry sector. We see softening demand, increased financial aid, declining enrollment, diminished net revenue, and fewer students being served across the nation. There are few markets of growth and virtually no independent schools are just humming along like a decade ago. The financial pressures are mounting and, at bare minimum, everyone on campus is working harder. We are in unknown territory.
Our collective industry answers have been incremental, at best. Most schools have focused on what most economists would call optimization, trying to increase incremental net revenue, slightly reduce costs, and find simple ways of saving money. Most schools have had to reinterpret their mission to accommodate a wider array of learners, creating a new tension on campus. It may seem like a lot, but it is incremental and simple optimization.
History tells us that when there is a market contraction - a lessening of demand for a product – providers respond in a variety of ways. Companies may alter their pricing strategies (lower the price), create new products as revenue streams (line extensions), collaborate with others, or they may consolidate their offerings. We are in a market contraction. Optimization will not solve our problems. We have to change.
Our next series of blog entries are going to focus on four potential solutions to our financial woes. They will require a new way of thinking; a new business model. And, they will require significant change. However, independent schools and colleges can make these changes, as they have choice. Their greatest asset is their independence. It is time to call upon and leverage that asset.
Sage Hill School in Newport Coast, California has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and consulting services. Sage Hill School offers a bright, motivated, and diverse student body a unique journey of discovery. An academically challenging, college preparatory curriculum is enriched by ample opportunities for participation in athletics, the arts, leadership, service, and a wide variety of community activities. We will begin our work this month and continue through the fall. We are excited to welcome Sage Hill School into the ISA client community.