Every university has a chief enrollment officer — but the role is far less common in school districts. Here’s why you need one.
Running a school is hard. Administrators are constantly pulled in a thousand directions. It’s a job that demands the ability to control chaos, juggling principals, teachers, parents, and — perhaps hardest of all — the students themselves.
Most administrators have barely enough hours in the day to address all of the time-sensitive problems that are constantly laid at their feet, leaving precious little time to consider their district’s future.
But time isn’t their only limited asset. Money, obviously, is also tight. With budgets already stretched to their limits, nobody wants to have to choose between hiring a new teacher or keeping an extracurricular program.
However, in a world where a victory is often just making it through the day until the dismissal bell, enrollment can frequently be an afterthought. After all, you’re the local public school. People know where to find you.
…Right? Not necessarily.
Despite the tremendous advantages of being everywhere, convenient, and free, public schools constantly miss out on enrolling families and students who would be amazing additions to their communities. Attracting and retaining these families requires careful planning, excellent customer service, and, in most cases, a dedicated Chief Enrollment Officer.
Enrollment is the Lifeblood of Your School
Why is enrollment important? In the simplest terms, it’s about money. School funding varies by state and district, but, in general, more students equals more dollars.
Alternatively, the opposite scenario of decreasing enrollment can mean a cut in funding, leading to the possibility of cuts to programs, layoffs, or even school closures, which hurt everybody. This fear isn’t just theoretical, either.
Public schools lost roughly 1.5 million students during the pandemic, mostly concentrated in the younger grades. Public schools have no choice but to find a way to recruit these students back and start growing again.
However, to reverse the trend, public schools have to change how they operate, which means fundamentally changing their management structure to prioritize enrollment.
Beyond money, vibrant schools are also central to thriving communities. Great schools are a magnet for young families, increasing the value of homes in their districts. Schools bind communities together, serving as a source of pride, and a school can’t reach its potential unless it’s attracting the kind of students and families who will thrive in their environment.
While some families will enroll at their local public school no matter what, it’s often the families who diligently research all the schools in their area — including magnet schools, charter schools, and private schools — who are most likely to donate their time and money to make their school successful.
For example, the mom who stays up late on a work night updating a spreadsheet she’s made of every school in a 25-mile radius to find the perfect place to send her kindergartener is also the same mom with the skills and motivation to run your annual fundraising drive a few years down the line.
Remember, enrollment is more than handing out forms to families signing their kids up for school. Enrollment must be a process where schools reach out into the community to actively recruit families to choose them over their other private, magnet, and charter options. This process can include activities such as offering school tours, running social media ads for your district’s schools, and more.
Proactive recruitment isn’t something many public schools are accustomed to doing, but the unfortunate fact is that if you don’t actively recruit, you’ll lose students to schools that do.
SchoolMint can help you reach out to parents in your community through our digital advertising service along with SchoolMint Engage, an innovative enrollment solution designed to increase the online visibility of your school and to help you enroll them through a seamless family experience.
Watch the video below to learn more about SchoolMint Engage:
A Job This Important Needs a Person Who is Accountable: The Chief Enrollment Officer
One thing I often hear from administrators is that enrollment is part of everybody’s job. No doubt this is true. From top to bottom, all year long, every member of your school community should be enlisted to help it grow.
However, as anyone who’s ever worked in a large organization can tell you, if a specific person isn’t directly responsible for a project, the project won’t get done (or at least not done well).
A dedicated Chief Enrollment Officer centralizes the responsibility of enrollment in one place. This individual not only prioritizes enrollment as their full-time job but they are also the focal point for the district’s entire enrollment effort.
The Chief Enrollment Officer sets the long-term enrollment strategy for the district, manages the execution of the strategy day-to-day, and, most of all, is accountable for the district’s enrollment efforts.
Accountability is about more than just having someone to congratulate if your district hits its goals or someone to blame if it doesn’t. Having a specific member of your team accountable for enrollment is also a statement of your values. It’s a way of demonstrating to your entire district that enrollment is a priority and that you expect results.
While a Chief Enrollment Officer might be a novel concept to most public schools, almost every organization relies on a similar person or department tasked with getting more users, customers, or students.
Every company has a VP of sales as well as a marketing department dedicated to finding new customers. Every university, whether public or private, has a VP of admissions plus entire departments dedicated to attracting students.
Most important for public schools is that every private school has three or four full-time staff members dedicated to convincing parents in your district to choose them instead of you. A Chief Enrollment Officer levels this playing field, giving your school or district a fighting chance to convince these parents to join your community.
Let Your Chief Enrollment Officer Set Actionable and Tangible Targets and Goals
As anyone who ever tried to get into shape can tell you, personal trainers are masters of motivation, and one of their secrets is setting high but attainable goals for their clients.
They know their clients will keep showing up if they see results, but they also know those results have to be real and tangible. That’s why personal trainers don’t recommend setting a vague goal like “get healthier.” The client needs a specific target to reach for, like “finishing a half marathon in less than two hours.” Now, instead of reaching for something undefined, the client can focus on a specific calendar date and a specific time on their watch.
Enrollment goals are the same way.
“Increasing enrollment” is a good goal, but having a Chief Enrollment Officer allows your district to dig deeper and create more specific goals, like targeting a specific community within your district for students or increasing the retention rate at a struggling school.
Enrollment is an especially good attribute to target because it’s all about numbers. However, your targets and goals don’t always need specific numbers of students attached.
A specific target like that gives your team a goal to rally around and strive for, making it much more likely that your ultimate goal of higher enrollment will be met.
The Chief Enrollment Officer Tells the Story of Your School
Your district or school is more than the number of enrolled students and their test scores. What makes your district special is what happens in your classrooms, where teachers can change students’ lives, and students can sometimes start the process of changing the world.
Your Chief Enrollment Officer is in a unique position to push beyond the dry facts and figures that parents find on school rating websites and to tell a fuller story of your school or district, showing its human face.
It’s this kind of human connection — not numbers on a website — that turns a family uncertain about their local public school into enrollees and your school’s biggest boosters.
However, to make these connections, you need your entire school and district working from the same playbook, stressing the same positive attributes about your school, telling the same story, and showing parents how their children will fit into and succeed in your school community.
But how do you wrangle all the stakeholders in your district to communicate from the same playbook? You do that by hiring a Chief Enrollment Officer.
Your Chief Enrollment Officer Sets the Tone for School Customer Service
The Chief Enrollment Officer can also instill an ethos of customer service in your school. Schools are constantly competing for students, and parents gravitate toward schools that listen to their concerns, even if the parents themselves don’t realize this.
A Chief Enrollment Officer can set the tone for customer service in a school or school district by prioritizing the needs of prospective parents and helping teachers and administrators meet those needs.
SchoolMint can help you evaluate your current customer service through a “secret shopper” engagement.
With this service, we send in an undercover enrollment consultant who mimics the experience a prospective parent has when attempting to enroll at your school. This consultant will follow the steps a typical parent would take when learning about and enrolling in your school:
- Online research
- Your school’s website
- Social media
- Your school tour
- Follow-up activities post-tour
Finally, the Chief Enrollment Officer’s Job Never Ends
Just as teachers start with a new crop of students every fall, the Chief Enrollment Officer’s job of enrolling new students never stops.
Every spring, when your oldest class leaves your campus for the last time, you’ll feel secure with your future knowing you have a Chief Enrollment Officer looking forward to the next crop of students for the upcoming school year — and for many, many more years to come.
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