Who needs to know about my Catholic School?
No one parent is exactly like another, though recent national research by the Fordham Institute found that all parents considering non-public educational options believe that academic rigor and physical safety are non-negotiable (so never be shy in demonstrating excellence and safety at your school!). Beyond safety and rigor, the same study found that parents fall into six distinct segments based on their hopes for their child’s education:
- Strivers – (12% of K-12 parents) are primarily concerned with their child attending a top-tier university. These parents may find stories about alumni attending top-tier high schools or universities very intriguing.
- Jeffersonians – (15% of K-12 parents) value a school that “emphasizes instruction in citizenship, democracy and leadership.” Examples of student leadership, character formation, and service projects could draw the attention of parents in this segment.
- Test-Score Hawks – (23% of K-12 parents) favor schools associated with high scores. If a school is able to promote high test scores, it is important to do so.
- Multiculturalists – (22% of K-12 parents) want their children to learn how to work with people from diverse backgrounds. In addition to ethnic diversity, examples of diversity in thought, style of learning, as well as the experiences of the student body and faculty are very effective.
- Expressionists – (15% of K-12 parents) want programs that emphasize music and art instruction. Many Catholic schools have found that programs in music and the arts are highly valued by parents and students.
- Pragmatists – (36% of K-12 parents) value a curriculum that offers vocational classes or job-related programs. If a school is able to promote a curriculum that can bolster a student’s resume at a young age, it is important to do so.
There are many different motivations for a parent to choose a school; this research lends insight in identifying some. The research from Fordham segments parents by their values, but those segments should not be considered exhaustive or mutually exclusive of one another. For instance, religious education as a preference was not included in this study, but Catholic school leaders know that the Catholic Identity of a school is a major factor for many parents. It may be worth noting that in 2012-2013 there were 974,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Seattle, of which roughly 125,000 were between the ages of 5 and 14. Additionally, there are more baptized Catholic children under the age of 5 (roughly 30,000) than in all of the Catholic elementary and high schools in the Archdiocese (22,000).
The Enrollment Lead can introduce the committee to some of the research above and (keeping only positive strengths and opportunities in mind) encourage another discussion about the different types of parents that already choose the school and those who might also be interested. Many of the members of the Enrollment Committee are likely parents, so they may begin to categorize themselves while the Enrollment Lead is introducing the different segments of parents in the study. If a conversation begins to pick-up naturally, the Enrollment Lead should ensure that the conversation focuses on parents that will (or already do) find that the school meets their needs.
The following questions can help guide a discussion, narrow the focus of the committee on a target audience to persuade and begin to consider messages to that audience:
- Do we have parents, like those listed in the Fordham study, at our Catholic school?
- Which particular segments do you notice? Can you give examples of why you consider parents to fit the mold described in the Fordham study?
- Are there parents at our Catholic school that are not found in the Fordham study? How are they different from the six segments in the study? Can you share an example that demonstrates some of their attitudes, beliefs, and values?
- What other types of needs and values do parents have that can be satisfied at our Catholic school?
- What programs does the school have (academic or co-curricular) that satisfy the needs of parents?
- What causes parents to worry when they think of their children’s education and future? Does our school provide a solution to those worries?
- Are the values and needs of families (current and prospective) changing from year to year? How? Are we positioned to accommodate changing values and needs? How?
- How old are children when parents begin to consider educational options for their children? Is there a process? If so, when does it begin and end?
- Where are the places that we can reach parents when they are considering educational options for their child? (e.g., daycares, websites, parent groups, kid camps, or other places parents can be reached)
During the discussion on target audience profiles, the designated note taker can record the different attributes of target audiences. After a robust conversation has taken place, the committee should begin to categorize the different attributes into “audience profiles.” An audience profile is a broadly generalized description of a parent, for instance the parents that are segmented in the Fordham study (e.g., Strivers and Jeffersonians).
This is an especially helpful exercise for the Enrollment Lead and Principal to do in advance of any Enrollment Committee meetings. Assuming that the Principal has been at the school (or in Catholic education) long enough to close their eyes and consider a hypothetical parent in their office that is interested in enrolling. The Enrollment Lead can ask the Principal the following:
- How old is this parent?
- Is a man or woman or both? Are their children with them in the Principal’s office?
- What is their income level, ethnicity, religion, and how far do they live from the school?
- Why are they interested in Catholic education and what, if any, are their concerns?
- What kind of INCORRECT perceptions do they have about Catholic school?
- What is unique to this parent and is it a consistent theme among a certain demographic in the school’s region?
The goal of these questions and conversation before and during an Enrollment Committee meeting is to create no more than 5 distinct, but fairly broad profiles of real types of parents that are (or should be) interested in the Catholic school.
Use the Audience Profile Worksheet to develop profiles inclusive of:
- Names: Easy to remember and descriptive, such as “Parish Families.”
- Demographics: Include age ranges, income levels, languages, ethnicities, and religions.
- Values: Examples include faith formation, after school care, and language instruction.
- Perceptions: Use stereotypes and consider what committee members have heard actual parents say, such as “Catholic school would be ideal, but too expensive.”
- Behaviors: List what is already known to be unique about an audience. If possible, recall previous successful recruitment efforts and share any key learnings.
- Location: Where do they live and work? What are the best ways to reach them and when are the right times?