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"Getting the Word Out" Helps Boost a School's Enrollment

Written by William Schmitt on Wednesday, 04 April 2012.

Ideas from Action Research by RLP Grad Gina Groch Send a Message

Gina Groch, a graduate of cohort 8 in ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program (RLP), is assistant principal at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, Fla. As with all of her RLP classmates, Gina's preparation for the M.A. degree in Educational Administration degree included an action research project, addressing a particular school problem and striving to offer data-informed insights that would help other schools facing the same challenges.

Her project explored how the basic principles of marketing might be applied to help increase a Catholic school's enrollment. Gina, who received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Temple University with a double major in computer science and marketing, has applied her graduate-level research insights at St. Elizabeth Seton and reports impressive results.

"In an overall sense, I tried to analyze our school in relation to the 4 P's of marketing--product, price, place, and promotion," she commented recently. In short, the first three P's told a positive story. The school's product is a quality Catholic education. Its price is twice the national average but still the lowest among private schools in the area. Its place is an area with many young, growing Catholic families.

But the primary challenge was promotion: "Quite simply, not enough people knew we existed and what we were doing, even though the school was established in 1981."

Gina recalled how a variety of promotional initiatives had paid off during the past few years, yielding "a continuous stream of inquiries" and significant enrollment gains—from 220 in the 2009-2010 school year to 255 in the current year. She summed it up this way:

* An improved website, with more interactivity, now offers a tour of the school, among other features.

* Intense promotion of the school's Open House, including a stepped-up presence in local parish bulletins, helped that event to yield 11 new student registrations.

* To ensure a consistent and frequent presence in the parish bulletins at four area churches, the school is purchasing bulletin ads. "This has had a definite impact on the number of inquiries and registrations we have received this year," says Gina.

* Weekly press releases have resulted in better coverage in the local press, "which amounts to free advertising." The topics range from events and activities occurring at the school to student awards and special guests. One news announcement centered on the students' rising environmental consciousness and their celebration of "Green Day" on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis, patron saint of the environment.

* The look of marketing materials, such as brochures and handouts, has been enhanced.

* School events, which are numerous, reach out to the community at large, which prompts donations as well as interest in the school.

* Overall, positive word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied parents may be the biggest single enrollment booster.

"The Action Research project has given better insight and direction on how best to promote the school with our existing parents as well as our potential families," Gina comments. "It gave us informative data on the school's perceived strengths and weaknesses and allowed us to review this information to improve our communication methods."

Gina, who has served St. Elizabeth Seton as assistant principal and technology coordinator since 2005, continues: "The marketing improvements we started three years ago became more informed and focused. This has resulted in an increase in demand for enrollment despite the poor economy. I believe these principles could be applied at any school looking to improve parent satisfaction and increase enrollment."

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