Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Better enrollments, higher retention, deeper engagement.

That was, in essence, my pitch to a prospective client. I had spent a couple of days with this virtual school, discussing where they had been, where they were, and where they wanted to go. I had walked them through my Virtual School Manifesto, shared with them where it diverged from current models, and outlined the measurable results that consisted of better enrollments, higher retention, and deeper engagement.

Better Enrollments

Currently there appears to be a thought process that better enrollments does not equal more enrollments. In reality, it may mean just that. It doesn't have to though. A third option though is that it could mean more enrollments and better enrollments over time.

However, the current model of enrolling as many students as possible, without taking into account true fit for the model, does a disservice to the families, students, and the school. The result is the high attrition rates we are now experiencing.

As I shared with this prospective client, my attention is centered on finding families who are willing to put in the work necessary to succeed.

"Virtual schools are not for everyone, so why therefore do we attempt to recruit anyone who will say Yes?"

Instead, I support the notion that we train our efforts, invest our dollars on finding families who align with our mission and have the necessary aspiration to show up and play the role they need to play. It is a team effort that requires both school and family.

Higher Retention

By default if we recruit better enrollments we should experience higher retention rates. However, that will only move the needle slightly. In order to have the type of impact that makes a difference, we need to move to a retention culture.

When we begin the process of dismantling the retention programs and build a culture centered on the learning experience, the families, and the service we can provide them, we then initiate a culture of retention. And this is where the real change can occur.

In most virtual schools, students who stay longer perform better on state tests (due to many reasons). It only makes sense then that virtual schools should work harder at serving and keeping their existing families than they do at recruiting new ones.

Now, combine a retention culture with recruiting better enrollments and you will have more of the "right" students with more of them staying longer.

Deeper Engagement

From showing up for online meetings, classes and field trips to being present and ready at the state tests, a deeper level of engagement by students and families will boost school performance.

My belief and experience is if we build a retention culture based on the aspects of customer service, it creates an environment in which families engage with their school at a deeper, more meaningful level. We want students to be present and we also want them to engage. Being there is the first step, participating is the goal.

Each point is a measurable metric. We can measure the quality of enrollments just as we can easily measure retention rates. And, we can also measure engagement levels by students and families.

This approach requires the school to be disciplined, and authentic in its message. It turns the attention away from more and shines the spotlight on better, higher and deeper. If done well and consistent, it will also lead to more, but more of what is desired -- better, higher and deeper.

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