A diverse inquiry pool and providing equal opportunities for admission to all students is a goal of any school, but as the U.S. population grows more and more diverse, private school student enrollment has not been able to accurately represent the changing demographics of our country.
As schools become increasingly focused on DEI in admissions and issues of fairness, inclusivity, and access, it’s essential to reevaluate the admissions and enrollment process through the lens of equity and how it can support enrollment strategies.
As the demographics of the country shift, more non-traditional applicants including students of color, varying gender identity preferences, and those with diverse family backgrounds are becoming traditional applicants.
While the average percentage of minority students in private schools is around 33%, few schools would disagree that all educational institutions need to be more strategic and proactive about cultivating diversity in their applicant pool.
By focusing on an intentionally equitable admissions process, private schools can reduce bias in private school admissions and still address sensitive topics. An admissions strategy built on inclusion can make the candidate review process more equitable for all families, and bring in a diverse mix of families to their schools.
If you're looking to advance DEI initiatives in your office of admissions and enrollment, an equity framework can be a good place to start. By using an enrollment management system (EMS) that prioritizes diversity, equality, and inclusion goals, you can establish benchmarks and collect data to track progress toward your enrollment goals.
Addressing sensitive topics in admissions
Increasing student enrollment while maintaining your academic standards is a real priority, but it needs to be balanced with communicating your desire for equity and fairness. Schools should be open and transparent about their policies regarding sensitive topics, such as special needs, gender identity, financial assistance, and the race of applicants. As your admissions team addresses sensitive topics, your school can:
- Clearly state your policies regarding special needs on your website and application materials
- Offer resources and support for families with special needs
- Provide opportunities for families to ask questions & discuss concerns with admissions staff
- Train your team staff to handle sensitive topics with empathy and professionalism
- Allow for more options to confirm students’ gender identity, race, and financial needs on admissions inquiries and applications
Little changes can make a big difference. Adding an additional form field like “self-identify,” similar to what The Mead School has done with its inquiry form, can help welcome those who are more comfortable self-identifying their gender.
Making the candidate review process more equitable
Private schools need a clear and consistent admission process to review candidates. Through documented rating criteria, your office can make the candidate review process more equitable and weigh candidate decisions while avoiding legal challenges.
To ensure a fair candidate review process, schools can consider additional rating criteria beyond just academic achievements. This can include:
- Assessing non-academic achievements like community involvement, leadership, and extracurricular activities of students
- Considering socio-economic status and diversity in the decision-making process
- Conducting blind reviews to remove biases based on personal information, such as name or ethnicity
- Establishing a diverse admissions committee that represents the school's community
Document the candidate review process thoroughly
Private schools should provide clear, concise, and professional reasons for candidate rejections and communicate them in a timely and professional manner. Including notes and ratings from admissions committee members can help families understand the decision and prevent any misunderstandings or miscommunications about bias in admissions.
Avoid making discriminatory statements
Schools must ensure that their admissions decisions are not based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Any statements or decisions that could be considered discriminatory can result in legal challenges and damage your school's reputation.
Consult with legal counsel
If your school is unsure about the legality of a decision or statement, they should consult with legal counsel. This can help avoid legal challenges and ensure that their admissions process is fair and equitable — for all candidates.
Considerations for access
Some of the most pressing equity issues are matters of access for families. By creating a more accessible online (and even in-person) experience, you’re demonstrating your school’s commitment to welcoming a wider audience.
A mobile-friendly admission process
For parents in certain demographics, it’s a challenge to access registration portals from a desktop device. A mobile-friendly admissions process, however, would benefit many more families, considering that ninety-seven percent of Americans now own a cellphone, while 85% own a smartphone — a number that’s drastically up from just 35% in the Pew Research Center’s first survey of smartphone ownership in 2011.
Showcasing financial aid and scholarships
Consider how well you promote your school’s financial assistance and scholarship programs. Private schools can always provide more financial aid and scholarship information to families who cannot afford full tuition, which can help make private education more accessible.
To accompany its financial aid information, Meadowridge School also highlights its scholarships, payment options, and discounts on its tuition page. Note the school’s commitment to “grow our Financial Assistance program to include applying families in order to build a diverse student body” — great information to include on key pages like this.
Options for transportation
Schools can offer transportation options such as buses or shuttle services to students who live far from the school. This can help your school expand its borders and offer students who may not have access to attend the school of their choice.
Viewpoint School outlines its network of morning, afternoon, and evening bus routes to help students get to and from school from wherever they live — not to mention save some gas.
As families visit your campus for important admission meetings, interviews, and campus tours, ensure your facilities are accessible to students with disabilities. Marking the locations of accommodations like wheelchair ramps, elevators, and accessible bathrooms on a campus map is a great idea.
Reaching underrepresented communities
Engage underrepresented communities and offer information about your school and admissions process. This can include hosting informational sessions, partnering with community organizations, sharing your facility space, and collaborating on larger community events throughout the year.
Flexible options for payments
To accommodate a wide range of financial needs and access to funds, a customizable billing schedule for parents and guardians can allow a greater level of flexibility.
When selecting a tuition and billing system, some important features to look for include the ability to adjust a family's monthly due date, the ability to remove late fees, and the ability to edit a family's payment plan schedule during a difficult month.
So, what does this all look like, and how can your admission and enrollment office provide accurate reporting to its board on important DEI initiatives and representation? To better understand your enrollment priorities and ensure racial constituencies are represented in critical stages of the admissions process, it's helpful to look at both school-specific and regional benchmarks provided by your school’s EMS.
Tracking yield data by race/ethnicity is crucial to ensure that students of color enroll at your school. Having a diverse applicant pool means nothing if students of color are not enrolling, but analyzing yield data can help identify barriers and systemic issues that may exist for some applicants.
Inclusion and fairness also tie into enrollment reporting. With Finalsite Enrollment, admissions directors who want to report on demographically segmented trends within their enrollment numbers and funnel counts can benefit from funnel reports that are easy to drill down into demographic segments.
Promoting fairness, inclusivity, and access in the admissions process is crucial for private schools to attract a diverse inquiry pool and provide equal representation and opportunities for all students. If your school can prioritize these values, you’ll be more likely to attract and retain a diverse student body and make a positive impact on your wider community.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As an Enrollment Solution team member, Cody Weaver works with schools through collaboration. Aiming to ensure all components needed to successfully manage admissions and enrollment are aligned with the goals of the school and the needs of their students. Cody also works to help schools build and foster relationships with their prospective students, donors, alumni, and the community they serve. Cody has worked with hundreds of K-12 schools and has over 7 years of consultative and leadership experience in the independent and Catholic school space.
John Lyman is based in Austin Texas. As a product marketing manager at Finalsite, John focuses on developing, launching, and managing products while conducting market research to identify customer needs, defining product requirements, and working with cross-functional teams to bring the products to market.