What Every Independent School Should Know About Enrollment Trends

By Victoria Newman, President and Founder of Greenwich Education Group

It had been almost three years since I last attended the annual Enrollment Management Association’s (EMA) Annual Conference. It was exciting and re-energizing to be with my colleagues in person again. The hugs, smiles, and camaraderie were exceptional and much needed after the pandemic.

These administrators and educators are the essential individuals who bring in new families and are tasked with retaining and getting their graduates ready for the real world. They are the best and brightest in the field of admissions, enrollment management, and school placement, and they have had to improvise and adjust again and again since COVID arrived as an unwelcome guest in March 2020.

Heather Hoerle, Executive Director of EMA, and other experts in the field of enrollment management highlighted several potentially significant trends that all schools need to acknowledge and create an effective strategy to address. One example is the rise in school choice with the growth of charter schools, independent schools, and special education schools. Another disturbing result of the pandemic is that, according to NAIS, students have lost up to 8 months of learning. Heather said parents today are looking under a microscope to ensure their children’s education is receiving the most value for their hard-earned income in an environment of higher tuition, inflation, energy prices, and housing, contributing to their anxiety.

Families also consider how schools create a sense of community, safety, and belonging. With the growing competition and expansion of less expensive charter and hybrid schools, the decisions administrators and educators face in offering a superior educational experience while dealing with cost constraints will be a more significant challenge than in the past.

Retention of students has never mattered more, and schools must look at ways to keep their students, parents, and caregivers satisfied. For independent and special education schools and programs, enrollment success depends on factors far beyond the admissions office. How school leaders work together in multi-faceted ways will be critical to student success and a school’s survival.

Nathan Kuncel, psychology professor and Scholar at the University of Minnesota, feels that rituals have never been more critical. He said, “Rituals can provide a sense of stability, facilitate social connectedness, and knit communities together. Given the length of this pandemic, it is fair to assume the need for consistency and rituals are even higher among key stakeholders in schools-teachers, administrators, students, and parents.”

There is a direct relationship between mental health and academic performance. According to Dr. Tammy Moscrip, Ph.D., LCSW, Executive Director, Chief Administrator of The Spire School in Stamford, CT, while we hope the COVID health crisis is behind us, the social, emotional, and academic impacts on our students are still very much present. The resulting decrease in educational and skills gaps heightened anxiety, depression, isolation, reduced classroom engagement, and lack of motivation is a crisis for our adolescent learners.

So, where do schools go from here? Schools must redouble their efforts to partner with parents, teachers, clinicians, and staff to ensure that every student is known and essential. More frequent communication is paramount. Parents want to hear from schools in the good times, not only when they get that dreaded call that their child skipped class or did not hand in their homework. As all schools try to put COVID in the rearview mirror, strategizing on how best to address the COVID learning deficits, social issues, and emotional loss, we as educators need to take that extra step to reach out to ensure that students and parents know we are here to help.

Vicky Newman founded Greenwich Education Group (GEG) in 2004 and is the President of all GEG divisions, which include The Pinnacle School, The Spire School, and Links Academy. She is also the Director of Day & Boarding School Advisory Services. Vicky began her career as a teacher in the Stamford Public Schools and taught in the Greenwich Public Schools. She is deeply knowledgeable about the academic curriculum in both public and private school arenas.