The first day of school is just around the corner! As you prepare for the first day of school and the next round of recruitment, we at SchoolMint wanted to share some best practices for student recruitment and charter school marketing.
At SchoolMint, we work with hundreds of charter schools across the country, including some of the leading charter school networks such as Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Aspire, KIPP, LEARN Charter School Network, Rocketship, Summit Public Schools, Noble Network of Schools, and Democracy Prep, to name a few. We help schools take their enrollment processes (student recruitment, applications, registration, waitlist, lottery, payments, etc) online and on mobile, and thus have been able to learn from our schools how they do student recruitment, community outreach, and marketing.
Beyond that, these charter school networks also have access to the data coming directly from parents as they apply what actually works to recruit parents. Given this unique context, we have learned from our school partners what successful student recruitment and marketing looks like, and we’d love to share these findings with you today.
In this article we’ll be sharing some of these best practices with you. Please reach out if you have any questions or comments.
Set a Student Recruitment and Marketing Strategy and Team
Student recruitment and community outreach are the first part of the larger student enrollment process, starting in the early fall or winter, and continuing through late spring. This means that many charter schools are involved in student recruitment and community for about 7-8 months out of the year!
It may sound a little obvious, but we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a student recruitment and marketing plan for the year, and team who will own every step of the way. Everyone involved in student recruitment and marketing should know what the plan is for the year, know when certain action items need to be completed by, have a solid understanding of what success will mean for the year, should understand metrics that will be used in measuring that success, and know who will own each part of the plan.
Have a Clear Branding Strategy
Below, you will find a list of questions that schools have found helpful to think about as they think about setting a solid branding strategy. If you are interested in learning more, make sure to email us to sign up for one of our upcoming webinars by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does your school or organization have a branding strategy? Are you and all stakeholders clear on how you are different from schools in the surrounding area? Have you established who these stakeholders are? Is the value add for the community and parents around you crystal clear in your marketing materials (including your website, print materials, Facebook page, etc.)?
Are you and your team clear on your mission and vision? If we, or a funder, went to your website, would we be able to easily find your mission and vision statements? If we asked one of the other parents from your school about your school, do you know what they would likely say? Are you and your team working to make sure that you are intentional about your school’s messaging, and would you like that messaging to change depending on whether it’s staff, parents, students, the general community, or funders that you’re talking to?
These are just a few of a longer list of questions that we recommend schools ask themselves as they work on setting their branding strategy.
Where To Take Your Carefully Crafted Message?
Phew! You’ve answered all of the questions above and now have some solid messaging. Great job, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. Now the question is where to take this messaging? This is where multi-channel marketing comes in; let’s dive in.
At SchoolMint we ran some analysis of all of the applications that all of the schools that we have worked with received. Based on this analysis we learned a few things:
1. Referral is King
Most parents heard about the school they applied to by a referral. By “most,” we mean 60%! That’s a really high number. Lesson learned here: be very deliberate about how you are enabling parents to share information about your school with other parents.
One way to do this is to have clear speaking points that you would want parents to own. Step two is to think of referral programs, or ways to facilitate sharing of this information. Schools we have worked with have given out free shirts to parents (t-shirt campaigns), set up referral rewards programs, and facilitated sharing on social media. Have another creative idea for facilitating referrals? Please share with us (email@example.com or on Facebook or Twitter)! We’d love to learn about what other schools are doing as well!
2. In Person Matters
This one is going to be a little redundant. Something else we learned is that in person matters. Up to 70% of parents noted that they heard of the school they eventually sent an application for from an in-person interaction. In-person interactions include referrals (see above), in-person events (community fairs, school events, etc), canvassing, among other approaches.
3. Online Is on the Rise
Paper-based marketing is getting more and more competition from online marketing. More and more, schools are reaching out to potential families using online resources including Google Ads, Facebook ads, and engaging with parents via their Facebook Pages.
Schools are also getting creative about their online presence: for example; they use Twitter to engage with the community to establish strategic partnerships and reach out to funders. Also, it’s worth noting that many schools now have school pages on many of these online environments, we recommend that your school also think about how it’s currently represented on social media and on the web.
In general, it would be worthwhile to explore how you can improve efficiency for many systems (including marketing and student recruitment) by moving to online environments. Everyday, charter schools reach out to us to learn about moving their enrollment systems online (and to mobile), and student recruitment and marketing is not the exception (we can help with that, too).
Our take aways for these best practices would be 1) be intentional, and have a strategy and team in place for student recruitment and marketing, 2) put in the necessary work to have solid messaging for all of your stakeholders, and 3) base where you take your message on an understanding that you have about the parents in your community and an understanding of how they engage with you and the community at large (based on research and solid data).
The biggest take-away is to be intentional about all parts of student recruitment and marketing for your school. Setting a system in place might take some time, but we can assure you that it will be well worth it in the end!
If you would like to learn more, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to me, email@example.com. Also, if you have insights about what has worked and what hasn’t worked at your school, I would love to learn more about your own unique experiences!