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Decoding Re-Enrollment: Navigating Continuous vs. Traditional Methods and the Role of Parent Behavior

Jan 27, 2024

Every year, re-enrollment becomes a hot topic that surfaces in discussions during our Small School Leader meet-ups, client conversations, and school campus visits. It's that pivotal time when schools navigate the crucial task of identifying families who plan to continue their journey with the school and those who may be parting ways, all before welcoming new families. 

There are typically two approaches to re-enrollment: Traditional Re-Enrollment (also known as Traditional Enrollment) involves schools relying on annual contracts that families must sign and return, signifying their commitment to stay. On the other hand, Continuous Re-enrollment (also known as Continuous Enrollment) follows a different path, where families sign a single contract upon initially joining the school and only need to take action if they choose to opt-out during a designated re-enrollment period.

In this blog post, we'll explore the influence of parent behavior on the re-enrollment process. Additionally, we'll delve into the essential components and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both continuous enrollment and traditional re-enrollment. 


Changing Parental Behaviors:

Before we can dive into re-enrollment, we need to first understand the evolving behaviors of today's parents. Several trends are shaping the landscape, making it imperative for independent schools to adapt their strategies. Let's explore these shifts and then delve into the challenges and innovative approaches to re-enrollment.

  • Increased Awareness of Alternative Education Options: The surge in awareness of alternative education options has grown exponentially, fueled in part by the diverse educational choices that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent schools now find themselves not only in competition with each other but also with public and charter schools.
  • Diminishing Brand Loyalty: Brand loyalty is no longer a given. If families are dissatisfied, they are more willing to explore other educational avenues. Parents are keenly aware of their child's educational experience and are quick to leave systems that no longer align with their family's needs.
  • Changing Consumer Dynamics: Parents have become more selective, taking longer to engage in decision-making processes. They are also becoming stealthier in their evaluations, making it essential for schools to adapt to these changing dynamics.

Given these trends, parents not only have an array of educational options but are also more willing to switch schools without providing clear signs before withdrawal. Hence, streamlining the enrollment and re-enrollment process becomes crucial for schools to retain the families they cherish.


Key Challenges During Re-enrollment:

This pivotal phase in the school year determines which families will depart and which will choose to remain, making it a crucial juncture for the school community. Let's delve into some important challenges that arise during this re-enrollment period.

  • Navigating Doubts and Decisions: During traditional re-enrollment parents are forced to reconsider their decision, questioning the value of tuition and the overall experience provided by the school.
  • Parental Action Required: traditional re-enrollment demands proactive action from parents, which can be challenging for busy parents juggling multiple responsibilities. Convincing parents to take action adds complexity to the process.
  • Timing of Re-enrollment Period: The re-enrollment period often coincides with the doldrums of the school year, usually between January and February. This timing, while necessary for planning, often results in lower energy levels, teacher burnout, and weary parents, making it challenging to generate enthusiasm for the next academic year.
  • Tuition Increase Announcements: Re-enrollment often involves announcing tuition increases, triggering a reevaluation of financial commitments. Parents may rethink their decision based on the perceived value of the education against the increased cost.
  • Parental Chatter: During re-enrollment, parents engage in discussions about their plans, potentially sowing seeds of doubt among others and influencing decisions.
  • Tracking Contracts and Parent Intentions: Schools struggle to understand their openings during Traditional Re-enrollment as they grapple with tracking down contracts and determining the number of current parents considering re-enrollment.


Strategies for Effective Re-Enrollment:

To address these challenges and enhance the re-enrollment process, schools can adopt several strategies:

  • Mid-Year Parent & Student Check-In Surveys: Conduct short surveys with parents and older students to gauge satisfaction and identify potential attrition cases.
  • Informal Parent Conferences: Schedule informal check-ins between teachers and parents in December, mid-January, and early February to identify and address potential attrition cases early on.
  • Retention Google Forms: Implement Google Forms for teachers to report retention-related conversations or observations during staff meetings.
  • Parent Association Insights: Leverage the parents association to gather insights into the re-enrollment buzz surrounding specific grades and classrooms.
  • Continuous Enrollment: Shift towards continuous enrollment to eliminate the need for parents to actively opt-in each year, creating a sense of commitment to the school community.
  • Opt-Out Forms: Introduce opt-out forms for continuous enrollment, collecting valuable information on reasons for leaving and the next school destination.
  • Strategic Communication: Craft timely and impactful communications during the re-enrollment process, emphasizing the commitment to current families and creating a sense of urgency.
  • Re-Enrollment Deadlines: Establish clear re-enrollment deadlines to create urgency and encourage early commitment, leveraging principles of FOMO to drive action.


Sample Timeline for Continuous Enrollment:

At times, schools contemplating continuous enrollment seek insight into the communication timeline for this enrollment period. While there isn't a universal approach, the following is a sample to provide an idea of what certain schools might incorporate during the continuous enrollment phase.

  • January 24: Head of School's Visionary Email to Current Families - Highlighting Achievements, Future Excitement, and Upcoming State of the School Update. In this communication, the Head of School reflects on the year's accomplishments, shares exciting prospects for the upcoming year, and some schools may incorporate a State of the School update. The email underscores the school's commitment to its students and families, expressing anticipation for another rewarding year within the community. Additionally, it mentions that tuition information will be communicated from the business office on February 1.
  • February 1: Tuition Update Email from the Business Office - Including Brief Justification for Increase, Opt-Out Form Details, and Important Deadlines. This email provides information on the upcoming tuition increase, offering a concise rationale for the adjustment. It also outlines opt-out form details, specifying deadlines for families intending to withdraw. The message includes guidance on accessing required documents and assures families that if they plan to stay, no action is needed, thanks to continuous enrollment securing their child's spot. The aim is to provide necessary opt-out information while reassuring parents about the security of their child's enrollment under continuous enrollment.
  • February 13: Opt-Out Deadline Reminder. Reminder email to current families containing FAQs, the opt-out form, and details about the upcoming opt-out deadline.
  • February 15: Opt-Out Deadline. Deadline for current families to opt-out of continuous enrollment and initiate withdrawal from the school. 
  • March 1: Distribute new family acceptances. 
  • March 15: Deadline for new families to submit contracts.

Aligning re-enrollment strategies with evolving parental dynamics, and employing effective communication, and enrollment timelines, as well as recognizing the advantages of continuous enrollment and the hurdles of traditional re-enrollment, empowers independent schools to navigate the intricacies of this process. This, in turn, facilitates a smoother experience for both the school and parents during this crucial period.


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