For this episode of our CHARTER EDtalks, Ryan Eldridge, one of Charter School Capital’s Charter School Advisors, had the honor of sitting down with Tom Tafoya, Chief Operations Officer for Visions in Education as he shares three keys to increasing charter school enrollment.
Visions in Education is a tuition-free public charter school that supports personalized learning in public education. They now serve over 6,400 students across a nine-county service area, making us one of the largest and most stable charter schools in the Sacramento Valley region.
To learn the tips and strategies Tom Tafoya so generously shared with us, please watch the video or read the transcript below to get the full story.
Ryan Eldridge: Thank you. And welcome to this episode of CHARTER EDTalks. I’m Ryan Eldridge, Charter School Advisor for Charter School Capital. And I’m honored to be joined by Tom Tofoya, Chief Operating Officer of Visions in Education. And we’re here to discuss enrollment marketing and how to increase enrollment numbers, period.
Tom, thanks for joining us. And what would you say are three main keys to increase enrollment for charters schools?
1. Have a multi-faceted marketing plan
Tom Tafoya: So for us, we’ve really focused on marketing, making sure your website’s really effective to inform folks and then what are your internal processes and systems look like to support all that. Over the years we’ve been averaging about a 10% growth rate a year and turning away hundreds of kids every year. And that’s really a result of being able to attract folks out there with our marketing, whether that be social media, pay per click, print, radio, there are different strategies for different communities. We try them all to really bring people to our website.
2. Have an effective website
Tafoya: And so two things are really important, to have your website be really informative but brief and really easy to read.
I’ve seen so many websites, school districts and other charter schools where it’s a vomit of information and because every department wants to tell everybody what they do. And yet, that website is sole purpose is really to inform potential students about your school. And people today are, they’re lazy, they want it simple and easy to read and they want an Amazon-like service and Amazon-like technology.
And so your website needs to be really easy to follow, informative and it’s got to be able to be read well on a phone. Everything is mobile. We know from our data internally that 70% of the traffic coming to our website is on a phone. And so we’re focused continually on making sure that our website is enabled for phones and other mobile devices.
3. Have the processes and personnel in place so you can be responsive
Tafoya: And then every person who comes in can be responded to very quickly. And so that’s really through the use of what we call a contact form, which we collect some basic information, give them a little info kit. And that enables us to capture some information about them and basically fulfill their request for more information.
Because we don’t want to just be marketing bombarding people for no reason. This is them saying, I want more information about your school. And so we use that contact form to enable that information to be captured. And then we have systems and people in place to follow up with those, what we call contacts.
And then we make it a point to make sure we’re calling them back within a day. We’re engaging with them, answering all their questions and really handholding them throughout the information and learning process. And then the application all the way to the enrollment process.
And I think if you have those three things in place and do them consistently well, I think you can’t help but grow enrollment. So that would be the main three things. Marketing, a good website, and good people and processes to manage all those inquiries and the applications to ensure that you’re able to bring people through quickly and pain-free as possible.
Because of the online application process, you have to produce a lot of documents, you got to fill out lots of forms, et cetera. So you want to make that as easy as possible for your customers because they’ll just go somewhere else if you make it difficult or if you don’t follow up, you don’t call them back, they’ll just go somewhere else. And so it’s really important to be “Johnny On the Spot” with those inquiries and help them throughout the process. Making sure you have staff available to do that is super important.
On setting manageable charter school enrollment timelines
Eldridge: Yeah. So what’s the average time frame from somebody from the first contact with the family, that they actually are fully enrolled in the school, from your experience at least?
Tafoya: So it’s seasonal. So there are certain times of the year where an inquiry might come in on Monday and by Friday we’ve already enrolled them.
Tafoya: And that’s with them submitting an online application. So, you better have an online application and then you’ve got to collect all the forms and paperwork. And a lot of families, they want to come to us. So, they’ve got the paperwork ready to go and if they’re able to do that and we have the bandwidth and the openings, we’ll get them in right away.
But generally, I would say from the time they fill out a form on the website to the time they’re enrolled, is two to three weeks. We’re dealing with hundreds of contacts a week coming in. And then another couple of hundred of applications during peak periods. July and August tend to be a really big enrollment season. So it’s probably taking three weeks around that range.
But if they fill out a form on our website, we get to get back to them within one day, one business day. That is our goal.
Eldridge: Yeah. And you’re in a school of over 6,000 kids. So I mean there’s a lot of charters out there that are much smaller than 6,000, but I would say you must have multiple people on staff to handle all the calls.
Tafoya: We have a team of people. Our enrollment team is out there helping them throughout the process and everybody, a team of about six to eight people doing that. But you need it to collect the paperwork, the immunizations, get the enrollment appointments, sign the master agreement. All of those pieces to the puzzle have to be done. And so that team does it all. They’re amazing. They stay focused and they really get it done.
Eldridge: Yeah, that’s great information. And I’m sure a lot of people appreciate it out there, especially from the size of the organization you are. So that wraps it up for this episode of CHARTER EDtalks. Again, Tom, thank you very much for joining us and hope you enjoyed it out there. Thank you.
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