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Building and Operationalizing a Retention Committee at Your Private School

Here’s something you likely already know: retention is more critical today than ever.

In this unpredictable time and unstable market, many schools are facing increased attrition rates. For many schools, preserving enrollment numbers is becoming more challenging every day.

One of the best ways to combat enrollment erosion, and ensure you’re well-prepared to weather the recession, is to create a retention committee — a cross-departmental team of faculty committed to keeping students from leaving your school.

But, what exactly does a retention committee do? How will it benefit your school? And how can you build one right now? Here’s what you need to know. 

Why Do You Need a Retention Committee?

Even before coronavirus rocked the world, admissions and enrollment professionals were feeling increasing pressure to grow their base of prospective students while also keeping current enrollment from dropping. 

Over the past few years, independent and private schools have been facing growing competition, and more than half (52%) of schools have seen increases in voluntary attrition in the past three years, according to data from the Enrollment Management Association (EMA). And COVID-19 only served to exacerbate these existing challenges.

A retention committee can help identify the root cause of enrollment issues and address challenges head-on. Because it’s usually composed of staff and faculty members from across your institution, you benefit from a wide range of perspectives. And by including a representative from each department, you can ensure retention efforts become a part of your school’s culture.

5 Steps to Create and Operationalize a Retention Committee

Even though retention is a serious concern for schools all across the U.S., only 25% of schools have a formal retention committee, according to EMA. That’s likely because retention committees aren’t easy to assemble. After all, breaking down departmental silos and bringing staff together isn’t always easy — but it is possible.

Recognizing and Reducing Meeting

Here are five steps to creating and operationalizing your committee:

1. Define your purpose
Start by identifying where you are and where you want to go. What are your existing enrollment numbers? What attrition do you anticipate during summer melt? Once you have these numbers, you can set a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goal.

Additionally, be sure to choose a name for your committee. This can go a long way toward creating a sense of unity among your team.

2. Pick a committee chair
Select a leader. If that’s not you, then choose someone who is dedicated to the cause, reliable, consistent, and skilled in managing teams.

3. Gain buy-in from senior stakeholders
Make sure to earn buy-in from senior members of your institution early on, including your principal or head of school. Their support can make or break your committee’s success.

4. Invite your most dedicated staff and faculty members
You likely already have a good idea of who from your team would be most valuable on your committee. Reach out to all the most dedicated, passionate, and action-oriented faculty and staff, and gauge their interest. Begin assigning roles and responsibilities, so everyone knows what they need to do to bring about change.

5. Schedule regular meetings
Host a kick-off meeting to introduce your plan, and then schedule regular follow-up meetings once per month or, at the very least, once per quarter. Be sure each session has a well-formed agenda, assign tasks, and take time to review performance. If you’re not on track to meet your goals, identify why and how you can quickly course-correct.

Also, take time to celebrate your successes along the way, and publicly recognize those making the most significant impact.

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Tips for Building a Diverse Retention Committee

Your committee’s success relies on its consistency and dedication. But there’s also another factor that will determine whether or not you’re able to reach your goals: diversity.

It’s essential you bring together a wide range of voices, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences. Choose a cross-section of faculty that accurately represents your student body, and be as inclusive as possible. Your committee should span genders, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and more. The more diverse your group, the richer the perspectives you can draw from.

Group of Student Ambassador

Your committee should also include members from leadership, teachers from different departments, and, of course, admissions and enrollment professionals. Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring student ambassadors to meetings to hear their input and ideas.

With increasing competition for independent and private schools and new economic uncertainties, it’s easy to feel like you’re navigating uncharted waters. But by putting together a retention committee, you can identify the greatest areas of opportunity in your enrollment processes and leverage your collective knowledge and experience to optimize the student and family experience.

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