Are you looking to increase enrollment at your private school? Consider these important steps:

THE BASICS

  • Visit other private and public schools in the area. Be aware of your competition. Know about their good and bad characteristics.
  • Talk with your existing school parents. Ask them to be honest about what they like and don’t like about your school.
  • Make sure you have a high-quality product. Strive to be the BEST school… with the BEST performing students… and strive to fix those things your parents do not like about your school.
  • Make sure your principal is passionate, has a good attitude, is upbeat, and does not in any way make staff, parents or students feel like they are walking on eggshells.
  • Involve the staff in the strategy to increase enrollment.
  • Encourage your pastor to get on board, and be “upbeat” with a “welcoming” attitude. Invite him to hear important feedback directly from teachers and staff, and be open to the hard truths.
  • Teach students to tuck in their shirts, brush their hair, stand tall with confidence, look guests in the eye, speak clearly, and to shake hands… “It’s very nice to meet you. Welcome to our school. We are glad you are here.”
  • Write down all major school accomplishments over the past 5 years: Student awards. Staff awards. School recognition, etc. Do this simply to be aware of it.
  • Clean up. Make sure the campus is clean and organized. Mow the grass and pull the weeds. A messy space with exposed storage and dusty artifacts affects the attitudes of staff, students, parents, and prospective parents.
  • Answer the phone WITH A SMILE. The person answering the phone needs to be a professional who recognizes that EVERY SINGLE INCOMING CALL is a chance to enroll a new student. (It could even be a parent of three new students!) The sound of the staff-person’s voice can make or break that deal. If the person taking calls cannot do this PERFECTLY, find a new, passionate person to take these important calls.
  • Do not let phone calls go to a phone tree system. (They are highly impersonal.) When your human is taking calls, that human should be very friendly, appreciative of the call, and should not attempt to be the world’s best gatekeeper — “Who is this, and why are you calling and what do you want?” — it sounds mean and doesn’t make the school look good.
  • If a message is left, return calls ASAP. Someone shopping for a school (especially a preschool) might sign a lucrative deal with your competitor within an hour or two.
  • Incoming emails to “info@” should be received and replied to immediately. Emails to administrators should be returned within four business hours.
  • Get the right people on the team. If you’ve got a bad apple on your team, find the best way to legally “help them move on.” God gave talents to each of us. Working at your school may not be the best use of that person’s talents. You’re actually doing them a favor by making better use of their talents.

NEXT STEPS

  • Make your pricing as simple and straightforward as possible. Nobody likes nickel-and-diming. “This is the total. Divide it by 12. Make your monthly payment.”
  • Hire a professional to create promotional materials and keep them at the school and church offices. These include school brochures, school magazines, staff business cards, newsletters, posters, banners, and more. They should all be consistently branded. Don’t try to sell a $50,000 education by using a cheap-looking, photocopied flyers. You must be willing to invest in your brand. Go to a new car dealer and see how they sell a $50,000 product.
  • Make sure your website is modern and top-notch. First impressions can make or break your success.
  • Create videos that are really good. People laugh at (and can even be uncomfortable around) bad, homemade videos. But they share the good ones. Use your good videos on your impressive website and in your social media.
  • Frequently add news and events to your website. Post photos from your events, and share the cool things that happen around campus, on field trips, in school Masses, etc.
  • Be interactive with your social media, and don’t ignore it for weeks on end. Post great photos and great messages often, and when people interact, respond quickly with upbeat interaction.

TWICE PER YEAR

  • Principal needs to personally call EVERY single family and say “THANK YOU for being part of our school family. We really do appreciate you. We are creating a bright future for your child. My door is ALWAYS open. Whenever you need something, please call me or stop by. It will be my pleasure to serve you.” This is not an email blast. These are good old-fashioned phone calls.
  • NOT during the same call to parents, invite your parents to share the glory of the school with their friends. Consider developing a team of your 20 best “cheerleader” parents and invite them to be ambassadors. Ask these parents to spread the news of the school, to distribute your school magazines, and invite new parents to come in for tours and lunches with the students.
  • Principal should make frequent contact with the Preschool parents, and do everything possible to get those students into TK and Kinder.

WORK TOGETHER

  • Pastor needs to invite the Religious Education Director to meet with the Principal. The three of them need to sit down together and come to the same page… realizing that the goal is to get every single CCD student into Catholic School. The Principal and Religious Ed Director need to work very closely on this, as a partnership. Use this meeting to plan communications to parents, and invitations to encourage tours.
  • Have at least 4 “events” a year for CCD parents to interact with the Catholic School teachers and students. One of these gatherings happens at the beginning of the school year, generally with the Rel Ed Dir gives a presentation to CCD parents. What a great time for a few existing school parents to really showcase the heartfelt benefits of attending the Catholic school!
  • The school must communicate quarterly (or monthly) with the CCD parents, letting those parents know about all the good things happening at the school, awards received, curriculum, etc. All of this is to make your school look FAR BETTER than any possible local public school option. Do this via email and printed newsletters mailed to homes.
  • The school must be visible in the parish environment (and vice versa) at events, in the bulletin, school newsletter, etc. Be a big part of each other’s family. You’re one family under one roof.

MARKETING

  • Marketing is an investment. You must be willing to invest MONEY in trying to get new students from the public space into your space.
  • You cannot do something ONE time and throw up your hands and say, “That was a huge failure.”
  • Consider all the ways you can share your message, including but not limited to:
    • Blog frequently on your gorgeous website.
    • Send E-Newsletters to Parents and Prospects… keep them brief and ALWAYS link back to your website articles, videos and tour pages. Just share the info that you’ve already blogged.
    • Regularly send Direct Mail to Catholic households in the area that have school-aged children.
    • Use paid social media, targeted to your area / demo.
    • Have church events (wine and cheese parties) on your school grounds — you’d be surprised how many parishioners have never seen it!
    • Pick up the phone and call prospective parents.
    • Call Faith in Marketing at (858) 877-3733. We’ve worked with MANY schools in our diocese.

THE MISSION

Never forget that the work of Catholic schools is to maintain the Church’s mission of building Christ’s Kingdom while providing relevant, real-world instruction that prepares students for a future of passionate, faith-filled, talent-driven success.

THE TRUTH

With regards to this article, I wear two hats. I am the Founder of Faith in Marketing. And I am a parent of a Catholic School Student. In my work, I have visited countless school properties, and have met countless pastors, principals and staff. I meet with them and work with them to help increase enrollment. In my personal life, my child is enrolled in one of our local schools where I am active in the Parent-Teacher Group, and teach an after-school club. I also attended Catholic school from K to 8.

I’ve seen the great, the good, the bad and the really ugly. I’ve been to schools that are absolutely superior in every way (even to the point that I am jealous). And I’ve been to schools (and churches) where I wouldn’t dare drop off my child. Fortunately, the vast majority are in really good shape and are led by talented leaders. Based on my own observations, many of the bullet points above are easy (and usually free) steps that leadership can take to get themselves into that “great” category.