For most schools, having every seat filled and a waiting list would be a nice problem to have. The staff would have living proof (students) that their ministry was reaching as many as possible. The donors would feel like the school they are supporting is doing everything possible to change the world. The church or churches that support the school would feel that they are supporting an effective ministry.
Reaching capacity requires two things. One is an effective recruiting and enrollment process. The other is an effective student retention process.
Many times schools treat retention as a salvage process. The parents fail to re-register a student or announce that they are withdrawing a student and the retention process begins. It usually includes a discussion of tuition and financial support. In addition, the desire to keep the child in the school and the willingness to handle any complaints are discussed. The goal is to make it comfortable for the student to remain at the school.
What if retention was an ongoing process? What if it was a preventative process rather than salvage?
The most common reason given by parents for having their child enrolled is they value a Christian school. If you ask a follow-on question like, “What other things do you want for your child?” You receive a wide and varied list of other expectations.
While finances play a part in the withdrawal of some students, it is a small percentage. Most students are withdrawn because the “other expectations” are inadequately met. Failure to meet those expectations means the family is receiving less value for their money than is justified to continue pay tuition. In other words, finances are a symptom of the larger problem.
We often ask the school leadership why parents enroll their students. Most of the time the leadership lacks an understanding of the reasons beyond a Christian education or provides reasons that are different from those we hear from the parents.
- During enrollment, ask the parents for their “other expectations”
- Share those expectations with the staff broadly and specifically with each of the student’s teachers
- Check with the teachers and the parents twice a year to ensure the expectations are being met
- Check with the parents once a year to confirm the expectations and listen for new expectation as the family’s needs change
Yes, it is extra work, but it is how each of us would all like to be treated. More importantly, it ensures that the student stays in your school and is able to receive the full benefit of your ministry.
It is economically justified. It will take less than 2 hours a year to check with the teacher (principal and teacher’s time combined). It will take about 2 hours a year to check with the parents. How many hours of your time are paid for by a year’s tuition? In short, it costs less to be preventive than to try to recruit replacement students for the upper grades or have a chair sit empty.
The success rate of this process is much higher than the success rate of the salvage process. In addition, lost families seldom make good referral sources. Alumni and their families are usually good referral sources and often become a long-term financial supporters.
Retaining the students increases financial stability and helps ensure the school is sustainable.n