Creating a School Application Process that Yields Results
To fulfill their mission, charter schools must attract and recruit enough students, and designing an effective application process is a critical step. Lory Pilchik, SchoolMint’s CMO, interviewed SchoolMint customer Trey Thompson, Enrollment Analyst at the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Trey is entering his second year in this role, after 3.5 years as a math teacher with Noble. Noble was founded in 1999 and operates 18 school campuses in the city of Chicago, serving 12,000+ students. Noble is tuition-free and open to all city residents that graduate eighth grade. Noble students graduate from college at 4 times the national average of their peers.
Lory Pilchik: What does an Enrollment Analyst do?
Trey Thompson: I work to ensure the integrity and efficiency of the enrollment process. At Noble, we’re obsessed with ensuring that our process is flawless and accessible for families. I’m also responsible for analyzing application and enrollment data to support strategic and operational decision making. Finally, I’m responsible for internal reporting to key stakeholders who need enrollment data to do their jobs successfully, such as facilities, operations, and school staff.
LP: When and why did Noble transition to an online enrollment system?
TT: Noble has been around for 17 years and up until last year, we had a paper-based enrollment system. We’re really excited about moving online because it is in line with our goal of streamlining our process and making it as accessible as possible. Also, with over 18,000 applications, the efficiencies that an automated system brings are essential. We needed a system to increase our capacity to track and analyze data, and to support our growth and sustainability.
LP: Is there any upside for parents?
TT: Ensuring our parents are informed and empowered by choice is critical for us. With this system, parents can access the system from their phones or computers. They can make changes to basic application data or check their status whenever they wish, instead of having to wait for us. The system also makes it feasible for us to share information on the Noble experience over text and email, including sharing student and parent stories.
LP: How has the implementation of the new online enrollment system gone?
TT: We took a gradual approach to bringing enrollment online last year. When we started with SchoolMint in the 2015-16 school year, we piloted an online application at the mid-year mark. This year, we’ll launch the online and paper options together in September, and expect to see a much higher percentage of our families use the online system.
LP: What are the key obstacles to automating 100% of the application process?
TT: It’s largely a matter of getting more of our parents comfortable with submitting applications online or via their mobile devices. Some of our families may have barriers to using an online platform.
LP: What is Noble doing to transition parents to an online enrollment process?
TT: We offer an enrollment hotline, which is available from 8:30am – 5:00pm, with expanded hours during peak times. Additionally, many of our campuses have application stations within their offices. We also created and distributed explanatory videos and training materials in English and Spanish.
LP: Has your application process changed by going online?
TT: The biggest change is that we now have a common application for all schools. In the past, parents had to apply to each school and now they only have to apply once. The other changes have less to do with automation and more to do with increasing the efficiency of the application process for parents.
LP: What enhancements have you implemented to improve the efficiency of your application process?
TT: We used to include an essay question. However, this proved to be a barrier for some students due to language and literacy issues. For this reason, we’ve removed the essay.
LP: What advice would you give to others in your shoes — as they contemplate automating and improving their student application process — to yield more applicants?
TT: While recognizing that context varies by charter network, my preference is to keep things simple. ‘Minimalism’ is my motto. Keep application questions and language as clear and accessible as possible. Finally, be sure to align with all stakeholders interacting with families on the transition process so that parents and student receive cohesive support.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE? To hear from Trey, watch and listen to our webinar: Developing an Application Process That Yields Results. You can also check out our infographic on The Power of Online and Mobile Student Applications.