The most important metrics for a strong enrollment program

More and more schools are moving to a system of data-driven instruction. By analyzing how each student is learning, they are able to create more targeted academic interventions for individual students or for a certain subject at their school. Schools who are using data as a strategic asset to education have seen significant academic improvements.

Managing your enrollment is very similar. By really understanding the data around your student enrollment efforts, you can easily identify areas of opportunity and implement better programs to drive your enrollment. However, this takes a bit of effort. You have to implement data gathering processes, and then most importantly, analyze the data! But, once you have knowledge of your data, you will become a much more effective at understanding the metrics of a strong enrollment program.

When I work with a client, the first few weeks are usually spent gathering and analyzing their data. Often numbers have not been looked at in years – or it is in multiple spreadsheets or databases throughout the school. The hardest part is typically locating it and collating it together for analysis.

Once you have your data, now is the fun part! (Well, at least I think it is fun!) Pulling the data into analysis and watching it tell you a story. We can look at your data in different ways, but I think it can tell you a lot if you follow this format. Now there is a lot more data that you can gather and more analysis that you can do. But for schools who are beginning to really leverage their data, here is your starting point.

Total Enrollment

Understanding your baseline enrollment over the past five years is the foundation of your enrollment metrics. If this is your first time creating this, don’t get frustrated if you don’t have data for five years. Create it for what you do have.

Take your total enrollment on a standard date such as the first day of school, state mandated count day, etc. Then, gather data on the total number of new enrollments for that year. You should come out with a chart that looks something like this:

Next, break out your new students by your lowest grade and all the other grades. For most schools, your most critical grade is going to be your entrance grade (kindergarten or 9th grade) – the most important for building your enrollment.

When I did the above chart for a client, it became obvious what their challenge was. Their new kindergarten enrollment was decreasing. When presented with this information, the client instantly stopped talking about other ideas and started to focus on kindergarten.  But it wasn’t until we could show them the 3 year data trend that this became the obvious strategy.   If your school is facing this challenge, you might want to check out this post.

Once you have completed these two graphs, you want to identify what your “true” replacement number is. This gets a little bit trickier, but here are the metrics to gather:

New students

  • Number of new students in your entrance grade
  • Number of new students in other grades

Student losses

  • Number of “graduating” students
  • Number of students leaving through natural attrition

Take the total number of new students and subtract the number of students that you lost – -that’s what your true enrollment picture looks like. Are you growing or are you shrinking? How many students do you really need to maintain your current enrollment levels?

Finally, take the number of students that you had in each grade over the past few years. Track how that has changed over time. You will start to uncover issues with much more specificity than if you had merely looked at average class or grade size.


Once you have completed these four charts, you have a pretty good understanding of the trends of your enrollment. Plus, you now have some historical averages, so you know if you had a particularly good year or it might be time to spend more time on your enrollment.

These charts tell you the “what” is happening in your enrollment. Now, let’s look at the “why”.

Closure rate

One of the biggest opportunities that schools have in increasing enrollment is to increase the percentage of families who once they tour your school and/or shadow, eventually enroll. This “closure” or “yield” rate is one of the most critical things for you to track.

I love this chart. It is very simple, but it tells you exactly what to do!

For this school, they are facing declining enrollment. By analyzing their data in this way, they can identify two critical issues:

  • Their attendance at open houses (their primary recruitment vehicle) is going down.
  • Their closure rate is low but has remained consistent.

Once they have looked at this data, their next steps become somewhat obvious:

  1. Get more people to come to their open houses through better promotion
  2. Improve their closure rate. They are doing a poor job of “closing the deal”

Promotion (getting more people to come) can be more involved and can often take additional money. If this school is somewhat cash-strapped due to lower enrollment, they really should focus on increasing their closure rate.

If they can increase their total closure rate by just 10%, going from ~58% to ~68%, and keeping their attendance numbers consistent, they gain another 10 to 12 students per year. At an average tuition or state grant of $6,000, this nets them an average of an additional $60,000 a year. Just by improving the tour experience!

I wrote about how to improve your closure rate in this blog and improving your open house here. If you implement some of those recommendations, you will see an increase in your student enrollment.

Retention

Finally, you need to understand where and why you are losing students. The first step is to understand your historical retention rate. This rate is very school specific and has a lot of variables. For a charter school in a lower socioeconomic area with high student mobility, you might have a higher rate than a Catholic school in a stable suburb. For this metric, you really want to compare your results against yourself and how you did in previous years.

To analyze this metric, you should gather four important pieces of data:

  • The total number of students leaving
  • The grade that they are leaving your school
  • The reason why they are leaving
  • Your Net Promoter Score

Gathering the number of students and grade level that leave is pretty easy. Your registrar will gather this information, but what is important is to look for is patterns.

  • Are students leaving in a particular grade?
  • Is there a teacher that has a lower retention rate?

It can be hard to get parents to tell you honestly why they are leaving your school, but that is important information to gather. This can be done via an exit interview, or just set up a simple set of questions in a Google Form or Survey Monkey and then email it to them. You really want to understand if they are leaving because of reasons outside of your control (moving) versus being unhappy with your school in some way. Only by asking your “unhappy customers” can you identify areas of your school that you need to improve.

However, gathering this information after a family has left can be challenging. Often, they won’t be honest as to their true reason or they won’t respond to your email. By understanding your parental satisfaction levels while they are still at your school, you will be able to proactively make improvements and keep them satisfied. I have covered the benefits of school satisfaction surveys and the importance of Net Promoter score in previous blogs and I really encourage you to make a yearly satisfaction survey part of your standard programs at your school. Having good survey data allows you to improve your school prior to parents leaving it!

We had quote in business school that said: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Creating these simple data dashboards will give you a lot more information on how to tackle and improve your enrollment challenges. Best of luck and call me if I can help.

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to nick@brightmindsmarketing.com or call us at 317-361-5255.

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