Enrollment leadership and management provides the primary source of revenue for most schools, and yet it's too often the most misunderstood role.
Admissions is influenced by a multitude of key factors, yet so often board members and administrators oversimplify the issues when facing enrollment challenges. Blaming the enrollment office seldom produces real gains because most of the contributing causes can be found elsewhere in the school.
What are the confounding factors that impact enrollment?
Faculty Quality & Engagement
The top factor that drives student growth and school growth is the quality of the faculty (teachers, staff, coaches--every employee of the school) and their engagement with the mission, with the leadership, with each other, and with students. Very seldom does the enrollment office have influence over the rehiring/hiring of faculty, so instead they route the admissions tour around "that" classroom and try to assure parents that the administration is working on it.
Trust and engagement of faculty and families rises and falls with the effectiveness of the school's communication habits. Lacking a clear communication protocol and plan, administrators enable the Diseases of the Grapevine that cause long-term damage. Unbridled use of email and social media only accelerates the issues that limit relationships with parents and students. This is a leadership struggle that requires a cohesive, campus-wide strategy.
In order to grow, schools need a significant number of administrators and personnel who are completely aligned with the mission, culture, and strategies of the school, and are remarkably committed to the work required to deliver on the organizational promises. This requires a high degree of self-awareness and humility combined with the courage to make difficult decisions. Ultimately, enrollment is a measurement of the temperature of the school, particularly assessing the leadership capacity.
How clearly and consistently does the school communicate and deliver on it's brand story? The enrollment office certainly should contribute to the development of the value proposition and narrative, but management of the day-to-day experience involves a community of leadership that directly impacts the emotional commitment of faculty and families. Your most effective and least expensive marketing and branding strategy starts internally with raving fans who energetically tell your story. That's a commitment that starts at the top!
Financial Aid Policy
For tuition-driven schools, financial aid policy is a major driver of enrollment results and should support the overall strategic plan. Even well-intended changes can produce negative short- and long-term consequences. Modification to financial aid rules and processes should be made collaboratively with the enrollment office with clear measurements of effectiveness and well-planned communications.
Parent involvement in the school has many benefits, but the leadership must ensure an inclusive attitude and approach. This requires on-going professional development and guidance for parent leadership to sustain alignment with expectations and commitment to shared goals. The benefits and risks to enrollment warrant such an investment of time an energy.
Anyone who has spent much time around a school understands that student discipline policies and enforcement can have a big impact on enrollment. Sometimes the issues are blatant, but often they are silent assassins that undermine student culture and cause families to disengage.