The Three Pillars of a Strong Enrollment Program

Most schools know when they have an enrollment challenge.  You can look at your student numbers on the day one of school and compare it with your enrollment year over year.  What is a little bit harder is isolating and understanding where your enrollment program is falling short.  One easy framework that I have used with schools is breaking down their enrollment prcess into three sequential parts:

  • Marketing
  • Recruitment
  • Retention

Retention is often overlooked when you think about enrollment, but if you are constantly losing kids because their families are not satisfied at your school, plugging that leak, and retaining families that have already committed to you is often easier than recruiting new families.

Let’s look at each of these components and talk about ways to maximize them.


This is the hardest and most expensive of the three to get right.  In the marketing phase, you are trying to:

  • Build awareness of your school with prospective families
  • “Sell them” on your school and
  • Identify them for future engagement/marketing purposes. 

Once you have done these three things, you need to get them to attend a recruitment event of some kind at your school.  This could be a shadow day, an open house or some other recruitment activity.  This is the recruitment phase.

The critical thing you are trying to build in the marketing stage is a prospect database.  The hardest part in marketing is identifying potential clients / parents.  Every marketing program or event that you do, needs to ultimately get you to the point of identifying a prospective family, so you can continually market to them. 

You probably are already doing a number of things, but ask yourself – are you regularly capturing names as part of your programs?  Merely communicating about your school is not enough – communicate about your school and get their names. 

Let’s look at your different programs through that lens:

  • Any program you have with partner or feeder schools should have the ultimate goal of identifying prospective family names.
  • If you are a Catholic school, you should have a number of names on the parish rolls of families that currently don’t attend your school. Have you matched that list up against your enrollment to see who attends the parish but doesn’t attend your school?  Those parisioners who don't attend your school are a great target for future marketing.
  • When you attend a community event – do you have a sign in sheet for more information or are you doing something to try to capture names?

General awareness is fine – but at the end of the day, you are trying to move prospective parents from awareness to interest to engagement in your school.  Try to do everything in your power to identify your leads.

The biggest area of opportunity that many schools have in embracing this mindset is their website.  Many schools utilize their website as a one way means of communication.  They talk about how great their school is, but they don't have the means to see who is visiting the site.  Most schools have great traffic on their site – but you never know who it is that is looking at your site.

To try to address this, always give parents the opportunity to request more information about your school by filling out an online form.  Or better yet, create a “lead magnet” where you can offer something of value in return for their contact information.

You will see this concept a lot on business oriented websites.  Basically, a lead magnet is an article, checklist or some other content that in return for sharing contact information, you can download.  Schools have a ton of content that can be valuable for parents if you spend the time to create them.

Here are some ideas for lead magnets you can create for your school:

  • Have your technology teacher write a simple guide to how to set parental controls on common apps.
  • Have your English teacher write a post about the books that every X grader should read.
  • Do a video that shows how to check if your preschooler is ready for kindergarten
  • Create a checklist on how to evaluate a school.

If you want to go into more depth about lead magnets, I covered that in this article.

Now that you have a list of identified prospective parents, continue to reach out to them with content about your school to eventually get them to come to a school tour, shadow day or recruitment event.  This allows you to stay top of mind, but you need to continue to nurture these contacts.  It is said that a marketing message needs to be delivered at least 7 times before someone takes action.  Strive to touch them multiple times.

There are many metrics you can use to see if you are successful in this phase, but your key metric here is # of qualified prospects that attend an event.


Recruitment is where the rubber hits the road.  Once you have potential parents at your school, are you wowing them in your tour?  Does your open house make them want to send their child to your school?  When they walk out the door with your collateral material, is it professionally done, or did you just give them a copy of your application in a folder that you had lying around? 

Once they are gone, are you following up in a consistent and methodical fashion to uncover objections and make them feel that they are truly wanted at your school?

Your key metric on this stage is to analyze the number of people who attended your event divided by the number that ultimately enrolled.  This is your “closure rate”.  I have seen this range from 40% (uh oh!) to as high as 96%. 

This phase is all about engagement and hard work.  But if you do it well, this is the most cost-effective one to get right.  If you are a school that is struggling with lower enrollment, prioritize this tactic and make sure that whoever comes in, leaves as an enrolled family.

However, even though they have enrolled in your school, there is still a chance that the student may not show up the first day.  What are you doing to ensure that they are going to be there in August?  Are you having new family events over the summer?  Have you paired them with a mentor family that is reaching out and making them feel welcome?  This step doesn’t end until the first day of school.


Once you have the student, you need to keep them.  Schools should regularly be surveying their parental base to understand the levels of satisfaction and improvements that they can make to the school.  It is so much cheaper and easier to keep a customer (family) than it is to recruit them, but if you don’t know if they are unhappy, you will be constantly surprised when they leave.

Satisfaction surveys for schools are a cheap and easy way to ensure that you are creating an environment where you seek out parent feedback.

A word to the wise on surveys.  Do not perform a survey if you are not prepared to share the results.  And, you need to think through an action plan to address those results.  Parents want to know that they are being heard, but if you disregard their feedback or don't share the results , they will be less likely to tell you what they want in the future.

When you are looking to improve your enrollment program, the first step is to identify which phase you are under-performing in.  By analyzing your enrollment program in this fashion, you can focus on fixing the most critical issues and develop an action plan to get better.  For most of my customers, time is their biggest hurdle, but by focusing on the right things, you can prioritize your efforts and ultimately be more successful in the long run.

Want our help to build a strong enrollment program?  

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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 or call us at 317-361-5255.

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