In this session, Ashley McQuarrie and Tony Solorzano joined Michael Barber to discuss what school leaders can be thinking about at this time of year to increase and steady enrollment. They spoke about retention, socioeconomic shifts, and social media. Join the experts as they answer all your questions live on Thursdays on YouTube at 10am PT / 12pm CT / 1pm ET. Charter School Capital – YouTube
Note: In this week’s transcript below, you’ll see that YouTube had an issue with sound for the first five minutes. The speakers were able to recap what they covered once sound was restored.
Read full transcript here:
(Technical difficulties from 00:00 – 04:56)
Ashley M (04:57):
… even worked with last year. Some of them are already seeing interest, and interest in their lottery already is up way over where it was this time last year before we were working with them. That’s something that I’ve been hearing from some of the returning schools who have just started back up. So the groundwork we laid early in the season or last season is still paying off for them longer term.
And then the other things that I’m hearing are just kind of what we hear every year, which is word of mouth used to be enough, but it’s not really anymore. Or maybe they’ve worked with marketing agencies in the past who aren’t specific to schools and they haven’t seen the results that they would like. Those are some of the common things that we hear.
Michael B (05:45):
Got it. I want to just welcome everyone in. We’ve got a few viewers that just let us know, it sounds like YouTube had a little glitch with some of our audio, so they heard Ashley’s answer to this question related to what are you hearing from school leaders. But I want to turn it back to Tony really quickly because I thought your answer was super insightful. And let me just lay the groundwork just in case we have new viewers. This is our weekly enrollment marketing series, all things enrollment on YouTube. You’ve got my fearless companion who’s here every single week, Ashley MacQuarrie, our director of enrollment marketing. And although you didn’t hear Tony’s fabulous intro, Tony works with charter school leaders across the southwest on helping them with challenges related to money to run, money to buy, and kids to fill their schools. Tony, so I’ll point this right back to you for just a quick second and ask, what are you hearing from school leaders as it relates to enrollment this second week of February?
Tony S. (06:41):
Yeah, again, it’s that enrollment is down across the board. It doesn’t matter if it’s a more rural school, if it’s a [inaudible 00:06:50] school, if it’s a traditional elementary school in a city center, it’s just been tough to recapture the enrollment loss that we’ve had during COVID. One interesting fact that I heard from a school just a couple of days ago that I was chatting with is that they’ve noticed their third grade is the lowest grade that they have at the moment. And if you think to, okay, great, we’re about three years into this pandemic, those would’ve been kindergartners in first-graders that are now making their way through the system, and those students have yet to totally return back. So just kind of a interesting little tidbit that I’ve seen.
Michael B (07:28):
This question is for both of you, I’ll point it to Ashley first and then, Tony, would love your perspective. Does it feel like it’s a retention challenge or are these students going elsewhere? Are they making different choices? We’re obviously dealing with challenges of kids even getting to school in many markets because of any number of personal challenges that they may be facing. But what might be driving this shift in enrollment from a decrease? And I’ll ask Ashley first for perspective there.
Ashley M (07:57):
Yeah, I think a lot of it is retention. It’s funny what Tony said about hearing about that third grade class. It reminds me of what we heard from schools last season who said, our second grade class is where we have the lowest enrollment because those were kindergartners two years ago. So it’s just a trend that we’re seeing and then it’s kind of continuing.
Definitely a retention. We hear a lot of [inaudible 00:08:22] especially in higher cost of living areas. The communities have changed, people are leaving [inaudible 00:08:28] more expensive metro areas, and those schools maybe are suffering. Sometimes it does go the other way where we see schools in lower cost of living areas [inaudible 00:08:40] a lot, but certainly schools who serve a higher students with greater needs and maybe more economic challenges, they’re seeing more of the retention challenges because those families just are struggling.
Michael B (08:57):
Tony, any thoughts there?
Tony S. (08:59):
Yeah, I don’t think this is a secret or any major revelation, but I always see the retention issue taking hold at school levels where we start to change teaching methods, meaning going from an elementary to a middle school or a middle school to a high school. Oftentimes I hear of our school struggling to maintain students even if they offer K-8 or K-12, when they get to those pivotal times in a child’s life, the family may look for an alternative.
Michael B (09:32):
Yeah, that’s great insights to see where the shifts are happening from kids leaving metro markets, kids and families making different choices as to what type of education they want. And I think it just speaks to a lot of the conversations that we’ve had, Ashley, about how enrollment is a year long effort. This isn’t something that you can think about from a seasonal perspective, although even as us, we approach that conversation with school leaders as it being seasonal because it is to obviously hit attendance numbers on a yearly basis, but that school leaders have to think about enrollment marketing all throughout the year, and they have to continue. The more they can cognitively decide that this is something I’m going to invest in all throughout the year, the better impact that they’ll have related to ensuring that they’re hitting their attendance goals or heading in that growth direction that they want to go. Just some thoughts there about why we have to make sure that we’re making these investments every single day of every single month, rather than thinking of it just seasonally.
Ashley M (10:34):
Yeah, I mean, totally. You’re right. You’re spot on. I mean it’s a year long effort for sure, and even multi-year. I think it’s really important, what we hear sometimes with schools is they focus on those entry grades, they focus on kindergarten, they focus on sixth grade, they focus on ninth grade if they’re a high school. And a lot of times we don’t have much of a challenge in filling those younger grades because those are natural entry points. But what we see a lot of times is maybe third, fourth grade, they start losing students. Seventh grade, we see a lot of student… We’ll see that grade decline even as the overall school goes up sometimes. And then maybe eighth, ninth grade, especially if a school doesn’t offer sports, for example. We see high schools sometimes lose those students.
So it’s really important that you focus on getting those new students at those early entry grades. But those are sometimes easier students to get. So don’t ignore trying to both get new enrollments of maybe transfer students who are coming in at a higher grade, or make sure that your returning students really understand why they chose that school, why it’s the right school for them, the benefits of staying at their same school rather than switching.
Michael B (11:45):
Great. I want to turn the conversation to some tactical questions, and we’ve got about a couple… We’ll stay on for an extra minute or two, just because of the audio challenges at the beginning. I was looking at some data from a couple of our schools, Ashley, you allow me to poke around performance and some of the metrics we get from schools. And it feels like really one of the things that I took from just casually looking for 15 to 20 minutes yesterday was that video is really having an impact this year on the enrollment efforts for schools, particularly from places like TikTok, places like YouTube and whatnot. I would just love your perspective of what do school leaders need to think about when it comes to video and making sure that they’re in the places where kids and/or families may be looking for this sort of content?
Ashley M (12:36):
Yeah. I think videos, we’ve just seen a huge spike in the amount of traffic that we can send from video. I think, previously, it was we started out kind of testing the waters, and now we have to dive in because it’s really working. It’s not necessarily a huge driver of conversion, but in terms of awareness, so if you’re between, do I want to spend on a billboard or do I want to produce a video and maybe put that on YouTube just to reach a big audience? I would maybe invest in video more and more. And then TikTok. Yeah, I mean we tested that last year. We ran a very short-term campaign, maybe a month or two on TikTok versus 10 months, 12 months of social media ads. And in just that short time, more than 10% of our website traffic from social media came from TikTok. Still 90% from Facebook, but in a month, that we were really surprised to see how many people engaged with TikTok and then clicked over to the website to learn more.
Michael B (13:36):
Yeah, I think the interesting thing is how do schools think about that? It might be beneficial for us to start unpacking, if the challenge is conversion on a landing page, maybe we also think about how we bring in video. So you continue that sort of conversation right on the landing page, and how do you convert that interest is something I’m really excited to see how the team’s going to handle in the coming months and years.
I’m going to make one last plug for any questions. We’ve got a few people that are live with us today on YouTube, so if you’ve got questions, you’ve got 60 seconds to drop into the YouTube chat. Again, on the right-hand side if you’re on desktop, or below the fold if you’re on your mobile phone. And we’ll wrap up with one last question for both of you. And that’s, you’re having a conversation with a new school leader about enrollment marketing and its importance. What’s the one sentence that you give to that school leader about why they should be investing in enrollment marketing? And I’m going to turn it to Ashley, because I know she has these conversations almost every single day with school leaders. So we’ll let Ashley say her answer first.
Ashley M (14:48):
Well, I mean, I think it’s worth investing in enrollment marketing because for every dollar that you invest in driving a new student, if you retain that student, I mean, just in terms of money to run your school, it pays off, I mean, 10s, 100s. In terms of keeping that student from kindergarten through 12th grade, you invest in attracting them once and they sustain your school for years and years. So I mean, I think in terms of dollar and cents, it just makes a lot of sense.
Michael B (15:25):
Tony, would love your answer. And I do have a really great question that just popped up, so I want you to all just stick around for a minute or two while we answer that question. But to Tony, what’s the one sentence? Why invest in enrollment efforts?
Tony S. (15:37):
Yeah. Because if you are not investing, somebody else is. And they’re then reaching the students that you want to reach as well. And unfortunately, it’s the sad reality that there’s a lot of competition out there, and there’s only one way to ensure that your name gets out there early and often, and that’s to invest. It’s more than one sentence.
Michael B (15:56):
Great answer, for sure. Okay, let me… That is more than one sentence. We’ll let you go a little bit because this is your first time on our YouTube live series. We’ll let it slip this time, not next time though. Okay. I have a question for you, and this question’s actually really good for Ashley, and I’d love Tony’s perspective as well, because we have done this for school leaders. So as someone is starting their charter school, they’re in that phase of getting their charter and they need to generate students that are interested. Have you done any type of advertising to increase parent and student engagement interests? In other words, priming the pump to get an idea of if there is an interest in a school, specific type of school, specific type of curriculum. My head immediately goes to someone who we’re big fans of, and that’s Dr. Ramona Bishop at Elite, Solano. We worked with her to really sort of prime the pump. Would love your thoughts on what’s impactful for new schools that haven’t launched yet to drive interest in their school?
Ashley M (17:02):
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of twofold. I mean, with that kind of thing, it’s less really about conversions and more about awareness and engagement with your community. So I mean, we see that just getting out in the community, talking to as many parents as you can, inviting parents to share what they’re looking for, what’s important to them in their child’s education. Having some early cheerleaders to go out and talk to their friends about this potential school option. And then probably just some higher level awareness about a new school option with a way to capture, yeah, I’d be interested in learning more. But it’s still important to have the basics, like a website that is really clear on what your core values, what you offer, has those stories to get some interest from parents so they have something to look at.
Tony S. (17:56):
And I’ll quickly put my-
Michael B (17:58):
Yeah, I mean, I think that… Oh, go-
Tony S. (17:58):
Oh, go ahead, Michael.
Michael B (17:58):
Go, Tony. Go. Go.
Tony S. (18:00):
I’ll put my board governance hat on for this one and say, and don’t neglect how you structure your board as it relates to getting the word out into the community. Your board of directors will shift as you age in a charter school. So that early stage is a great opportunity to have those community influencers and those parents with a large reach on that board to help spread the word as you kick off into those pivotal year zero and year one time periods.
Ashley M (18:27):
That’s a great point. Yeah.
Michael B (18:29):
Yeah, such a good point. All right, we’re over time. We’ve been a little bit more generous on the 10 minutes because of the audio, so we’re going to wrap it up for today. I’m going to drop into our YouTube chat ways you can connect with Tony, dropped in your LinkedIn URL, Tony, for you. So if you get a few connections, you’ll know it’s coming from our conversation today. But please feel free to connect with Tony if you’ve got additional questions or want to talk with our team. From here, I just want to let you know we’re taking a little break next week. We will not have our weekly series next week. We’ll be back the following week with a couple additional perspectives on all things enrollment marketing. As always, we’re thankful you’re here and appreciate the time. And Tony, we appreciate you joining us today.
Tony S. (19:14):
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Michael B (19:16):
Thanks everyone. Have a good week.