A common issue facing many independent schools today is a decrease in student enrollment year after year. What's even more alarming is that enrollment is projected to decrease by 6 percent by 2025–26. In 2017, Catholic schools specifically are feeling the heat, and have not seen their enrollment peak since the 1960s, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Many Catholic schools aren't sure what to do with low enrollment numbers, and are being forced to consolidate and merge together, especially due to a decrease in school staff — specifically nuns.
To find a solution to negative enrollment trend, schools need to be willing to adjust their admission strategy. This means they need to determine where you're spending the most out of your budget to reach prospective families. Though it's very common for schools to still do some form of print advertising as well as digital marketing, it makes more sense to shift more of your dollars digitally to reach more people. Ultimately, you want your school's name, brand, and information right in front of your prospects when they are browsing the internet, since 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.
This kind of shift is a huge strategic move, but the core behind any of your goals does goes back to your website. That's why when Jonathan DeRosa accepted the role as principal at St. Mary School in Waterbury, CT in June 2016, he made it his top priority to improve the school's online presence, which included the school's website. Along with this goal was the hope for more students to enroll in the school in the coming years. Little did they know changing their entire CMS provider would help them increase their school enrollment by nearly 12% for the following year.
"Our previous website provider was taking care of all of our updates, but the process to make any updates took time," said Jonathan. "In a world where people can perform a quick Google search and find endless information and data about schools in their area in seconds, immediate updates are crucial."
Since he came from a school that was also working with Finalsite, Jonathan suggested St. Mary School switched their platform over to Finalsite as well last year. Eventually their new site was launched around this time last year, and a set team at the school began using the Composer as their CMS. After going through an entire redesign with Finalsite and becoming familiar with the new platform, St. Mary School was ready to start using new tools to fill their admission funnel and grow enrollment.
Because of these tools, Jonathan and others at the school impressively were able to reach new prospects and saw a spike in inquiries just months after their redesign. Here are three ways they successfully increased their enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year that you can start implementing now, too.
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Give Your Prospects a Sneak Peak Inside Your Recent Events
St. Mary School's News and Media page on their website does a great job highlighting the events happening on campus. The content is put together using Finalsite's Multimedia Manager. The module allows you to upload photos and videos, organize the files in different folders, then add the media elements in a section on the page to display the content on your site.
According to Jonathan, the school strives to host events throughout the year as part of their admissions strategy to meet with prospective families. This allows prospective families to learn more about the school community, other students, and the school culture. But with many events, it's important to keep their content up to date on the site as much as possible. He does this by taking photos at the events and then uploading them onto the site within days of the event.
"We update our News page at least two or three times per week. Our families love to know what's going on at our school," said Jonathan. "Consistently updating our News page lets prospective families know that we are relevant!"
"The Multimedia Manager really allows us to tell a story from our events. We're able to highlight the stories of students meeting new friends, how lessons in the classroom came to life, or how hard our students fought in a sporting event," said Jonathan. "These images and videos not only show the successes of our students and school-wide events, but we hope they also resonate with prospective families and make them want to enroll their students at our school."
Promote Admission Events On Your School Calendar
St. Mary School also has a page on its website for its school calendar. By using Calendar Manager, they are able to add all upcoming event information into one place, and according to Jonathan, is the "best way to keep parents informed."
They placed the school calendar in different areas throughout the website, so regardless of where a prospect was browsing on the site, they would know where to find information on an upcoming event. For instance:
There is a scrolling footer of events on the bottom of the homepage:
The calendar is also displayed on the right side column on the Contact Us page:
And a link to the school calendar page itself can be found under the quicklinks navigation bar at the top of the website:
They've also organized their calendars based on category: School Calendar, Home and School Association Calendar, and Athletics Calendar.
"This makes it easy for parents to find any event by topic and the necessary event details like location and time right on the calendar," said Jonathan. "The module also makes it easy to show parents/guardians if an event is cancelled, postponed, changed, or on time." As an added feature in Calendar Manager, the module allows you to let site visitors subscribe to a specific event type, like a sporting event, to receive reminders or full calendars sent directly to them.
During the annual National Catholic School's Week from January 29 - February 4, the school held two different open houses for prospective families. According to Jonathan, the calendar module was pivotal, informing prospects the details of these events.
Craft Engaging Newsletters Your Prospective Families Will Open
Another tool St. Mary School uses for their admission strategy is eNotify. eNotify helps your school do two important parts of email marketing successfully: create professional looking emails with segmented and targeted lists.
St. Mary School uses the module to send out emails to prospects and new students every year with important information.
After sending nearly 135 emails last year alone using eNotify, it has become one of Jonathan's favorite tools for communicating to its school community.
"As soon as we started using eNotify, we began receiving positive feedback regarding how professional looking our emails appeared," said Jonathan, "I use eNotify to not only improve the appearance of our parent/guardian communication, but also the speed at which we could send global emails."
For example, earlier this year, they sent out an email to the parents of new and current students regarding tuition and enrollment for the 2017 - 2018 school year.
They included the school's logo at the top of the email for immediate brand recognition, as well as links to important documents for the parents:
After the message from Jonathan, the email continues with upcoming events and contact information:
The email performed extremely well, with an 64.15% open rate and 57.84% click through rate. Jonathan hopes to use eNotify more for this school year to communicate with current parents and students more efficiently and timely around important school deadlines and events.
Your school website is the most important tool for your admissions team. Not only should your website be up-to-date, but having a CMS with the flexibility to incorporate different modules onto your website is important, and Composer makes it easy to do so. Schools on the Finalsite platform are able to improve their communication strategies with prospective families and ultimately boost inquiries, as St. Mary School did this past year. As soon their new website launched, Jonathan immersed himself in multiple modules to provide their prospective and current families with relevant information on the exciting things happening at the school.
"In November, only three months into the current school year, our phones started ringing with inquiries about enrollment for the 2017-2018 academic year. In a time where, unfortunately, many Catholic grammar schools are seeing a decrease in enrollment, we were comfortable projecting an increase," said Jonathan. "About 90% of the callers mentioned hearing about our school online. The investment we made in our school's website was paying off! Three weeks into the new academic year we have 197 students enrolled and the calls are still coming in. Thank you, Finalsite!"
How do your marketing strategies compare? Want to be on our Featured Friday blogs? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your success with social media, the Finalsite platform, admissions, crowdfunding, or content marketing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.