Regardless of the type of school a student attends, their attendance is tied to funding. Whether tuition, grants, scholarships, or funds from State or Federal resources, each student attending school brings increased financial resources to your school or district. From Florida to California and New York to Texas, schools are experiencing declining enrollment and, with it, declining funds.
In Broward County, Florida, one of the largest districts in the country, enrollment is down for the third straight year. At the state’s average spending level of $9,000 per student, their losses amount to approximately $81,000,000. Just think about how many teachers, textbooks, art, music, PE, and extracurricular activities could be funded with that much money. Not to mention support services that students, families, and school staff desperately need to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and resulting shutdowns across the country.
What We Have Done
Historically, K-12 schools have engaged in limited marketing and recruiting. Public schools simply expected students to show up at their doors based on Enrollment Geographic Expectation, the expectation that families within a particular geographic area will naturally attend their zoned school. Private and charter schools may engage in some recruitment efforts, but they are often limited.
On the other hand, colleges and universities are master recruiters. From the time a high school student takes their first standardized test or visits their first college fair, students and their families are bombarded with emails, invitations, and mail, all touting the benefits their schools have to offer. Those that engage with students and families most effectively experience the greatest success. In fact, if a college can get a student or family to interact with them just 2-3 times, their chance of having a long-term educational relationship with them skyrockets.
And what of those students and families? They become community ambassadors without even realizing it, sharing everything that made them choose that school with others. They wear their school’s logo, network with other alums, and give back to the school with their time and money.
What Are We to Do?
With declining enrollment and funds, schools must think differently about how they recruit and retain students and families. K-12 schools can learn a lot from their higher education counterparts. But it’s critical that recruitment and retention efforts in K-12 remain uniquely their own. After all, we’re not talking about sending a young adult to your school but a minor still under the physical care of their parents. It’s personal.
It’s time for K-12 schools and districts to begin marketing to families in that way. We must highlight the accomplishments of our schools, showing students and families all that we have to offer. Just as a business in your community must adapt to the changing nature of its customers, so must we adapt to the changing nature of our students and families.
We must recognize that most families want to be involved with their child’s school. But that doesn’t look like it did when most of us were in school. Gone are the days of a simple open house or parent-teacher conference where educators proudly share all that has been accomplished at school. Instead, we must now learn to engage with and work with families in much more personal and intimate ways.
At the same time, we must recognize the value that technology has to play in making that a reality. Almost all parents use email, social media, texts, and apps. Most use those to connect to their friends and loved ones, so why shouldn’t we also use those platforms for recruiting, building relationships, and retaining families in our schools?
Are You Ready to Think Differently?
Do nothing, and your school will lose out on much-needed funds. Instead, innovatively approach recruitment and retention, and you’ll see almost immediate results. In fact, using Florida’s statistics again, consider that recruiting and retaining just five students will fund a teacher for an entire school year. Are you ready to think differently about recruitment and retention? Are you ready to enhance communication and collaboration with families, see enrollment increase, see funding grow, and, most importantly, see increases in student achievement?