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Admission Waiting Lists Are Good for a School

Posted by Grace Lee on Apr 30, 2013 7:33:00 AM

To Add or Not to Add: That is the question!

When the number of students who apply to a school exceeds the total amount of spots that are available (or capacity) in a grade or section, then a decision has to be made.

  • Does the school say "No" to the other students or put them on a waiting list for future consideration if an admitted student has to withdraw.
  • Should the school add another section to increase capacity?
  • Can another desk be added to a classroom that is already "full"? 

Actually, for private schools, an admission waiting pool is preferred over a waiting list. The word "list" implies "first come, firstWaiting List resized 600 serve," with the order of moving candidates from the list based on the chronological order in which the application was received. It is in the school's best interest, however, to select candidates from a waiting pool, giving priority to students who will most positively contribute to the personality and culture of the grade/class.

Charter schools are usually not permitted to exercise selective admissions. If the number of applying students exceeds capacity, a lottery is commonly used to determine who is admitted. Some states provide an exception for this policy for certain grades and if a spot opens up after the school year has started.

Scarcity is a powerful marketing message.

In general, the attitude and behavior of parents and students is more favorable when they understand the high value that others place on the school. This also helps energize the grapevine with "word of mouth marketing." The perceived value of a school, especially a private school, is significantly influenced by the the degree of scarcity (perceived or real); i.e., the size of the wait pool.

All of economics seems to boil down to scarcity. Goods and services all have value, and this value is determined by how scarce they are....The more of a product there is and the more people that have access to it, the less scarce it is. Its value, and thus price, will be less. The less of something there is, or the harder it is for people to access, the more scarce and expensive it will be. (Evan Rogers, "Evan's Easy Economics: #1 Scarcity and Prices")

Over the last decade, for example, demand for private New York City schools has risen much faster than the supply of openings available. Parent competition has spiked, with great effort made to solicit favor with administrators and board members. Tuition levels have risen with this demand, along with the amount of donations.

Exercise caution, however, when promoting the size of the waiting pool, protecting integrity with accurate numbers. Charter schools in Chicago and Boston have recently come under fire for exaggerated numbers that are difficult to reasonably support. This communication technique may accomplish short-term political goals, but undermines the credibility and value of the schools' brand in the long-term. 

Adding a Section

Great care should be exercised when deciding whether to add a section to a grade, and should consider:

    1. the net contribution per student

    2. the capacity of that class to absorb new students into the desired culture

    3. the movement of that class through the remainder of the grades

Net Contribution per Student is a relatively simple calculation that is the key economic driver for most schools, and can be calculated for the whole school, by division, and/or by grade. 

  Total Revenue
- Total Expenses
= Net Contribution
/ Total number of students
= Net Contribution per student

Adding a new section for a grade will require an additional teacher with salary and benefits plus square footage that must be cleaned and maintained. Additional materials and technology may also have to be purchased. Does adding this section require additional personnel for special classes, lunchroom, or other activites? The net contribution per student should remain within your target range.

Administrators are selling the school as a whole, but parents are buying the teachers, coaches, and peer influences at each grade level. 

The qualities of each student who may be added to a relatively full class are also important. How will his/her academic, behavior, attitude, and commitment (and that of the parents) affect the entire school and the teachers and students in this grade specifically? Keep in mind that administrators are selling the school as a whole, but parents are buying the teachers, coaches, and peer influences at each grade level.

Adding a new section at common transition grades (e.g., K, 6, and 9) is recommended. This allows growth to occur at a steady level and helps minimize an enrollment "bubble," where an oversized class makes its way through the system with smaller classes ahead and behind. (Think of a snake that has eaten a large meal and has to consume an oversized mass until digested.) If an additional section is added, the leadership should plan (e.g., building space, equipment, marketing, lunch room capacity, master schedule, etc.) to sustain the larger class size in successive grades for the next decade.

Waiting or Rejected?

How should the school communicate with parents regarding a student who has been placed in the waiting pool in the event that a spot opens up? Is the student really going to be admitted or is the school just being "nice"? Parents and students would rather know outright whether they have been rejected rather than languishing in enrollment purgatory. As a school leader, try to be timely and consistent in your communication with parents so that they understand the process and have an accurate understanding of where their child is in the process. Be careful that a fear of conflict doesn't cause confusion and stress.

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