Student enrollment is the engine that powers both mission and sustainability. However, with national birth rates at an all-time low and families increasingly migrating out of urban areas, that task is more difficult and uncertain than any time in recent history. Now is a critical moment to push to recruit new students and plan ahead to increase budget flexibility and resiliency.

Summer recruitment can bring up to a 20% surge in enrollment depending on local context and organizations’ time, resources, and focus. To achieve that surge, it’s critical to invest in marketing and recruiting activities and in particular, to tailor your strategies to your greatest areas of need. Summer recruitment activities require discipline in a variety of proven recruitment strategies including immediate lead follow-up, family engagement activities, old and cold lead follow-ups, efficient and engaging family onboarding, and family referral encouragements.

No matter how well we enact these strategies, there are often forces that will prevent us from meeting our enrollment goals. There are significant financial implications to missing enrollment targets. From a fiscal health standpoint, our schools will suffer unwanted consequences if we wait until close to the beginning of the school year to plan for operational changes required by enrollment misses.

While it isn’t fun to prepare for the downside possibilities, doing so protects your school(s) and the quality of your student services in the long run. We recommend you:

  1. Develop your downside fiscal scenario – how much of a fiscal deficit might you have from enrollment shortfalls?
  2. Confront the reality – The downside fiscal amount is a leadership and communication tool – it is a brutal fact that requires buy-in before rallying to fix it.
  3. Identify your stakeholders and rally the team – Be clear on who owns what responsibilities in the process of planning for downside mitigation strategies, knowing often the finance team might inform rather than make the decisions.
  4. Set a timeline for decisions – What is your cutoff date to determine how many students you anticipate and when implementation of changes should start?
  5. Monitor and leverage data – Report daily and weekly enrollment by grade and by school; use the data to inform where changes might need to be enacted. Use student outcome data to guide trade-off decisions.

With the team and timeline in place and your values at the center, your school organization can identify budget mitigation strategies equitably and effectively. At Afton, we believe the answers lie within your school communities. They depend on your student needs, your organizational values, and instructional strategies. And, there are some common approaches to consider as starting points. Learn more about these approaches in our Enrollment Scenario Budget and Planning document.