School districts know all too well the challenge of being asked to do too much with too little.
If you’re in the middle of a student recruitment effort, you may be feeling like you’re facing the impossible. You may not have the resources to commission brand new data about your district. You may feel outshined by the competition as a result, unable to match the efforts of deep-pocketed charter schools or private school foundations.
But you may be overthinking it.
Whatever you have to work with is enough to develop a competitive, robust recruitment campaign. There are proven ways to increase your recruitment budget, including ways that don’t increase the size of the pie, but divide it up more efficiently, producing surprising results.
A budget-friendly recruitment plan is about maximizing your existing resources. There are three ways to do this:
Ask what you can do for yourself as a district. It’s not only self-empowering, but it keeps you from ignoring great resources you already have at your disposal.
Consider the most effective ways to reach students. In other words, don’t try to fire on all cylinders in your recruitment campaign.
Use social media strategically. Ensure you are pushing out a consistent, concise and disciplined message.
It’s safe to say that as a district, you’ve been feeling the crunch for a long time. If you’re in more than half the states in the U.S., a 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities confirms you receive less overall per-student funding than before the Great Recession in 2008. Only some states have started to gradually restore public funding — 12 more, including two states in the region where the Caissa headquarters are located, actually effected even more education cuts in the 2017-18 school year.
There is a poignant human face behind the graphs and charts of reports like these. You have limited resources to teach kids, including those with special education needs, and less money for special subjects, new technology for schools, after-school programs and other student resources.
With all of that in mind, it may be hard to imagine where you would find extra money to devote to recruiting more students to your district — which presents a Catch-22. To get more funding, you need more students. But you need some sort of budget to recruit more students in the first place.
Recruitment campaigns are like cooking: The best chefs can surprise you with a few basic pantry ingredients and leftovers in the fridge. Their trick is to know which flavors interact well together, to know what’s essential and what isn’t, and to build a tasty dish from the usable ingredients they have.
As a district, what can you do for yourself? You probably have a trove of data and knowledge about your district that you can leverage, without bringing in additional resources to do new research and draw conclusions you could arrive at yourself.
If your recruitment measures are targeting specific groups of students, for example, you may ask currently enrolled students for participation and advice. Is there anything they could tell you about students from their neighborhood, or who thought of choosing charter or private schools like they did? How can you best appeal to them?
By the same token, existing students are one of your greatest recruitment assets. Explore strategies to engage and retain students and their families, especially if remote learning is the norm right now. This could be as simple as a phone bank, with volunteers from the district calling students and parents to check in.
Also consider the most effective way to reach students before executing your recruitment campaign. Using several mediums at once is often neither possible nor desirable. To us, it’s like throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Data from Statista, which examined the communication frequency preference of students researching college, by contact method, showed that 76% of them often preferred email vs. 1% who would never want to be e-mailed. 53% would often prefer snail mail, and 5% wouldn’t ever want to be approached this way. Those who responded “never” climbed significantly when students were asked about in-person, text and phone communications, with a high of 40% for messaging apps.
If you don’t have similar data just yet, consider running an informal poll among current students and families. This, too, is where your existing students and their families can be assets when targeting a specific group. What works for reaching them could also work for their peers.
Our third tip is to use social media strategically. Your targets are the most technology-savvy generation in history. They’ll forgive the occasional bad pun or joke, but you cannot screw up your social media strategy with content that is inconsistent or without a refined message. If it’s clear you’re shooting out anything just to be noticed, people will usually stop paying attention.
Among several message discipline tips we share frequently with clients, consistency is probably the biggest make-or-break component. Done right, and the district will develop a brand for itself on social media (or any medium, really).
It may help having one or two (and not much more) internal social media consultants who come up with post ideas and frequencies. You may want to use different mediums for different content, which is a good idea if everything stays on point. The message needs to be the same or similar, even if you’re using Instagram to deliver it one way and Twitter to share it another way.
We’ll leave you with this thought: In life, we often look further than we need to for solutions to challenges, without realizing how prepared we already are to use our existing strengths and resources. Even if you need to get creative, your district likely has what it needs to run a successful recruitment campaign that doesn’t break the bank and yields a growing, loyal student body.