At the end of each year, Digistorm reaches out to its community and asks for contributions to data and insights that craft our annual State of Admissions report. Now in its fourth year, we’re humbled to say the report has become something of a guidebook for understanding the challenges and opportunities facing our industry.

Here are three of the key insights from this year's report that got us scratching our chins...

1. Enquiry numbers are increasing. But getting a prospective student to the point of enrolment has become more complex.

When we combed through the data, it was inspiring to see that most schools saw more enquiries in 2023 than the year before. In fact, a whopping 92% of schools reported increased or stabilised enrolment numbers in 2023, up from 85% of schools in 2022.

But this opportunity has brought with it some challenges. Parents are frustrated by waitlists and expecting more from a school than ever before (think highly personalised interactions, greater focus on wellbeing, and tailored learning support). 53% of schools state they have over 5 enrolment touchpoints with prospective families before they enrol—often up to 10! When we compare that to data from the previous year when 52% of schools reported only 4 touchpoints, we can see communication is on the rise.

But the data to support these ideas doesn’t stop there. At the end of 2022, 69% of schools told us they’d experienced an increase in contact and communication with future families throughout the year. This year, that number rose to 74%. When asked how dramatic the increase in communication felt on a scale of 1 to 100, schools ranked it an average of 94!  

Overall, families are scrutinising the school decision heavily to ensure their investment is truly worth it. 58% of schools noticed a greater focus on wellness and wellbeing support. 43% of schools answered more questions than ever before. And 34% of schools said prospective families expected a faster response time than in other years. It's a lot to handle for admissions teams of just one or two people!

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So, while it’s positive that interest in enrolment is increasing, building relationships with future families has never been more complex.

Thankfully, Digistorm's Funnel can help with all this in a big way! It's a tool to nurture families without the fuss, automating highly personalised communication.

2. Retaining students is a battle being fuelled by high expectations and the cost of living.

While many of our survey questions were numbers-based and asked participants to choose from a selection of responses, we also invited responses to open-ended questions. For example, “Do you have any big predictions for admissions in 2024?” and “How would you sum up your school’s admissions for 2023 in a sentence?”

From these questions, it became abundantly clear that schools are feeling the pressure of families being squeezed by the cost of living—it was the most referenced theme across all of our survey respondents. Here's just a small sample of what we heard:

  • “Increasing cost of living balanced against increasing school fees.”
  • “Generating a value proposition in the face of the high cost of living.”
  • “Australian economic conditions will play a significant role for parents' decision in enrolling children at a private school.”
  • “Possible retention due to the cost of living.”

So, it’s probably no surprise that spending on education has become less frivolous and more thoughtful.

“As general living affordability decreases and teacher salaries increase, we should expect a problem with the long-term viability of current business models. We're rowing down a rocky river.” — State of Admissions Survey Respondent

Team the cost-of-living crisis with an influx of interstate movement and 47% of schools naming retention as one of their biggest commercial challenges—making it the top challenge overall for schools during 2023.

To help with retention, it's important to remind families of the value in your school, which is easier when there's great communication in place. A school app is one way to make that happen.

SOA Insights Image 2 (1)3. Being understaffed is the greatest internal challenge when it comes to reaching admissions goals.

With schools grappling to stay affordable for their families, internal spending is being curbed for many schools, including the hiring of new staff to expand teams in need of more assistance.

The result? Marketing and admissions teams are under pressure, struggling to reach big goals and handle their ever-growing workload. This made being understaffed the top internal challenge, trumping budget constraints in second place and skills gaps within the team taking out third.

“2023 was reactive due to understaffing. Challenging but successful. We were overwhelmed by the volume of applications we received.” — Survey Respondent

According to the report, 62% of schools have just 1 or 2 people in their admissions team. And those people don’t even have the privilege of dedicating all of their time to admissions. In fact, 80% of people working in school admissions handle more than just their own role.

Respondents told us that their other tasks included managing student data, liturgical music, college uniforms, annual school musicals, community relations, philanthropy, events, funding submissions, scholarships, marketing, administration, finance and more!

Get the full report
Our State of Admissions 2023/24 report is a free resource packed with data and insights.
Published 23 January 2024