The Emerging Science of Independent School Enrollment Growth

By Dr. Harry Bloom, Senior Vice President, Measuring Success

“For the first time in years, I have a clear pathway to enrollment growth,” said the Head of School at an independent day school after reviewing a draft strategic recruitment and retention plan from Measuring Success. About a week later, I heard almost the exact same sentiment from another independent school leader.

The two schools couldn’t have been more different from one another. One was an East Coast, relatively high-cost independent school. The other was a West Coast, moderate-cost, faith-based school.

While the exact content of each school’s enrollment growth plan was different, both were based on a proven Measuring Success methodology that draws heavily on data and research to clarify unknowns, identify prime potential families and students, and delineate an unambiguous pathway to growth. In addition, both plans contained a pathway to verify that the growth strategies were achieving their target enrollment outcomes.

A Six Step Process

The pathway to more predictable recruitment outcomes involves six concrete, data-informed steps that can move a school from an inexact trial and error process to one based on facts, gathered through precision-focused demographic analysis and projectable market research.

STEP ONE: Define Your School’s “Lookalike” Family Profile

We begin by looking at the families that are already a part of your school community. You provide basic information about current families. We match your families to their demographic characteristics drawn from a variety of select databases. During the data match process, we look at more than 700 variables including income, wealth, lifestyle and consumer choices, religion, and politics. Once we have appended the new data, we can create a significantly richer portrait of the families your school is currently serving successfully.

Next, we contrast your families’ characteristics to those of over 200 million at-large families in the United States to develop a statistically significant, distinctive profile for your school. We gain an understanding, via regression analysis, of what income, wealth, lifestyle and consumer choice, religious affiliation and political variables make the greatest difference in distinguishing your school’s families from other families.

The analysis goes well beyond using purchased demographic data to identify families who might be able to afford your school. We gain a multi-dimensional understanding of what makes them “tick” as consumers of independent schools.

STEP TWO: Determine Markets Where Growth Potential Exists as Well as the Magnitude of Opportunity

By applying the “lookalike” profile of your school’s particular families to a database of families in your targeted marketing area, we are able to pinpoint geographic areas of current strength and potential future opportunity. This helps validate enrollment targets and provides invaluable information to inform where the school should focus ambassadorship, marketing communications, and enrollment management efforts.

ZIP Code Student Market Size School’s Current Market Share School Buying Power
xx217 335 34% $5,276,000
xx102 154 15% $2,452,000
xx238 87 2% $1,957,000

STEP THREE: Rank Order Every Prospect Family Versus Your School’s Lookalike Family Profile

We contrast your school’s unique family profile to that of each of the families with appropriately aged children in your marketing area. During this step, we rank order every potential family — high-to-low — in terms of how similar it is to your unique family profile. As a result, we can deliver home address, phone and email contact information for every high potential prospective family directly to your enrollment management and marketing communications staff members, along with other value-added demographic information. It is not uncommon for a client school to receive data on thousands of high potential “lookalike” family matches in their target geographic areas. phone number, email address.

STEP FOUR: Identify Prime Prospects’ Key School Choice Criteria and Their Perceptions of Your School’s Competitive Strengths and Weaknesses

Utilizing the prospect family contact data, we conduct market research among the highest potential prospect “lookalike” families to gain an understanding of (1) what school choice factors have the greatest influence on them, and (2) your school’s perceived strengths and weaknesses on those factors.

Prospect Ranking Number of School Age Children 6-10 Income from Occupation Net Worth Lifestyle Match
1. 2 $250,000+ >$1million High
2. 2 $250,000+ >$1million High
3. 2 $250,000+ >$2 million High

STEP FIVE: Document Your School’s Outcomes on the Factors of Importance to Key Prospects

Through alumni, student, and parent surveys, and the analysis of other relevant facts, we help your school’s professionals marshal the strongest possible evidence supporting your school’s performance on the school choice factors that matter most to prime “Lookalike” prospects. We help validate the persuasiveness of the messaging through focus groups with top prospect representatives and enhance it until it is compelling.

STEP SIX: Microtarget Your School’s Prime Prospects

Armed with detailed contact information for the top prospects, we help your school target them with messaging focused on what they value and need to hear about your school via a two-edged marketing plan: (1) through parent and student ambassador programs, and (2) through social media, the school’s website, print media, snail and email, PR, and events.

Because we have created a list of the highest potential “lookalike” prospects, you are able to precisely target them. Moreover, you can measure the impact of your messaging and media impact on inquiries, visits, applications and matriculations relative to the defined prospect list on an ongoing basis. Your enrollment management and marketing communications staff members can celebrate wins and take corrective action when anticipated gains do not materialize, using continuous improvement methodology. Moreover, the very same messaging that will increase incoming enrollment will re-confirm your current families’ commitment to your school and strengthen retention.


There is no longer any valid reason for any school seeking to grow its enrollment to leave its success to chance. A data-driven program, following the six steps identified above has proven its value to Measuring Success’ clients.

For more information on how to put this methodology to work for your school contact Dr. Harry Bloom.