The COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the culture of learning in America and the issue of school enrollment is a current topic of repeated conversation. Remote learning created the option for students to learn outside of the school building and the shifts from remote, to hybrid resulted in a noticeable decline in school enrollment. Many students simply struggled to return to school. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a drop in K-12 public school enrollment of 1.2.million students. This indicated that no school district was immune to the enrollment challenges happening across the nation.
Low student enrollment cuts through the core of school communities. It impacts funding, academic and cultural initiatives, staffing, and resources. If schools are unable to meet the needs of their students, this creates a cyclical problem, leading to continued reductions in enrollment, compounding the issue even further. Low enrollment leads to low funding, resulting in smaller initiatives and even smaller investments into a school's appeal.
Districts don’t have to combat this problem alone. There are strategies for improving school enrollment that address the underlying causes resulting from the pandemic.
Here are three tips for creating and improving enrollment strategy within your school district:
Create: At Education Elements, we believe that strategic planning is a crucial step to ensuring your district vision is inspiring and actionable. The strategic planning process needs to be dynamic, responsive, and focused on changes that are successful, sustainable, and scalable. In our current times, a strategic vision should include a priority around increasing student enrollment, tied directly to the mission and vision of the district. Then individual schools can take necessary steps for planning, identifying the right teams, managing the roles, communicating, and making the appropriate decisions around enrollment strategies. Here’s a link to specific steps for developing a marketing plan within the strategic vision.
Revisit: If a strategic plan is in place, revisit its action steps to draw out specific key tasks that need to be accomplished within a set time frame related to enrollment. If enrollment was not a focus at the time of the plan’s creation, take time to reflect and iterate and add enrollment strategies.
2. Increase the school appeal within the district and larger community
For students and families to want to attend schools, they must be familiar with the school. Some questions to consider are: What is the history? What is the pride within the school among students, teachers, and leaders? What do students love about their school? Why do teachers enjoy coming to work? Schools are a staple within communities and should therefore be reflective of them and their values. How does the school help meet the needs of the community in the long-term? The answer to these questions can help address the root of any school and community disconnect. You should also consider how you communicate the positive aspects of your school to the target families and students.
3. Conduct outreach and enlist the support of the community
Outreach creates exposure. It’s important to consider the following: Who are influential members within the community? Church leaders? Business owners? Leverage these members to help spread information about the school. Communicate effectively with how the school addresses the needs of local students and families. Consider partnerships that can help students as they matriculate through the school community. The more families and students understand the long-term impact the school community has on them, the more they are likely to spread the word.
School enrollment should be a priority in all districts to preserve funding and quality educational opportunities for all students. At the core of increasing school enrollment is cultivating a strong student community and sense of belonging. Schools must continue to support the needs of their students and staff. This can be done through strategic plans that reflect a positive vision for the district and emphasizes tactics for strong enrollment. School districts should understand that the problem isn’t limited to their district alone and that they can learn from others. They can leverage their communities and stay grounded in the core of who they are. These three tips can help them to play the long game to continue increasing their student enrollment numbers.