You’ve gone through all the effort of attracting, enrolling, and keeping families happy, and now they want out. Unfortunately, this is a situation all schools will face to some degree, but also one which is also very treatable. In Episode Twelve of The Admissions Club, our experts take a deep dive into how you can improve your retention strategy. 

“There's no point bringing them in if you can't keep them on board. If you can't spot the warning signs, you can't stop families from jumping ship.” - Bianca Coleborn


Retention marketing is all about keeping your existing families in your school community for as long as possible. 

“It's totally okay to lose some families out of your school. Some might move cities, their family situations might change or you might see middle schoolers move to specialist high schools.” - Aubrey Bursch

Why is retention important?

Having a retention strategy in place means you'll be able to focus your attention on families who are at risk of leaving, despite having the option to stay. Acquiring a new family is more expensive than retaining the families you already have, and can have a real negative effect on your school's financial interests. For example, think about the cost of advertising, hosting events, your website, and printing a prospectus. It takes a lot of investment to get a single family across the line. 

“There's also the lost opportunity cost to consider when you lose the first child from a family, you're likely losing out on siblings a few years later. Not to mention that you have very little chance of that family becoming valuable advocates and alumni for your school.” - Monica Gill

“No doubt retention is very important. So we've got to ask ourselves, how do I keep my families happy and in my community for as long as possible?” - Lindsay

Using your churn rate

Simply put, your churn rate is the number of families who leave your school at a given time. Your churn rate is an important indicator of how positively families are engaging with your school and can let you know when something needs to be changed.

You can look at your churn rate as the percentage of students you lost compared to everyone who started off in that group. Let's say you’re looking at your middle school churn rate for the previous year, where you lost 5 students during the year but you started off with 52. work out your churn rate, you divide the 5 lost students by the 52 that you started with, and then multiply that by 100. This results in a 10% churn rate. You can now compare that to other years and see if your churn rate is improving or needs some work.

It sounds like a lot of work to know the circumstances of your existing families, and for big schools, it may be. However, many schools have entire roles dedicated to student retention,  so you shouldn’t be completely put off if your team has a hard time keeping up with just prospective families.

Aligning teams for retention

Retention is everyone's job, and you need to work on getting all your teams on board. Schools with great retention successfully weave retention into their expectations of faculty and staff. Teachers, for example, can create soft-touch points for each family every month, and staff members can send birthday cards and personalized emails to families.

“You definitely can't do it alone. So you're going to need to assemble your A team. Think about anyone that's close to where things are going wrong for your at-risk families. It could be your admissions team, teachers, or student ambassadors.” - Mary-Lou O’Brien


Each staff member needs to adopt an attitude of responsibility toward retention and must avoid delegating the task to any one team or staff member. Retention really is everyone's business; teachers, student support staff, marketing, and admissions teams, all form part of the team that can help improve retention. 

So when it comes to determining your school’s retention strategy and assembling teams to focus on it, there are a couple of key groups to consider.

Try to determine if you have someone on your staff who really understands from a data perspective what the problem is and where the problem is for your school. The data will give you an unbiased view of your retention issues, and make it clearer where you should focus your attention.

Once you understand where the challenge is, the next step is to figure out who the year-level leaders are at your school or the class leaders for a specific area within your school that is experiencing issues. These leaders can report ‘from the ground’, and really help you understand the situation better and what you can realistically do to improve it.

And don’t forget to consult your marketing and communications teams. When you have a challenge and you're working to solve that challenge, making sure people understand what you're going to do and how you're going to do it is fundamental. That's where the marketing and communications element comes in, helping to strengthen your retention team and ultimately solve the problem. 

The connect four framework

To understand why your families might be unhappy in the first place, it's important to understand that your families are connected to your school in different ways. Aubrey Bursche, from Easy School Marketing, calls this process the ‘Connect Four Framework’.

“When families feel connected in these four areas, they are more likely to stay and spread the word about your school. Schools that strategically implement the connect four framework, see higher retention rates and word-of-mouth referrals. It goes like this:

1. Connection to the child's experience.

This is huge and one we often forget. The whole reason a family is at your school is that they want a certain experience for their child. Parents want to see and hear about their child's experience. It reaffirms to them that they made the right choice and that your school is the best for their family, and not just their child's academic experience; they want to know that their child's social-emotional experience as well.

2. Connection to your families and your child's peers. 

Why did parents choose your school?  My guess is that they wanted a unique environment (what you have to offer) for their child to learn. So it would make sense that they would need to know what's happening in that environment so they could see the value of what you're offering parents connected to the classroom.

Parents who see and understand the value of what is being taught and why and the classroom experience are more likely to have a positive experience and stay. They are more likely to chat about their child's school with others. They once again are reaffirmed in their decision.

3. Connection to the teacher. 

Parents want to know, like, and trust their child's teacher. The teacher or teachers spend more time with the child during the week than the parents do. When parents know their child is safe and well cared for, they feel affirmed.

4. Connection to the classroom. 

Here's a fact: my child spends more time in the classroom than with me during the week. This is huge. And as a parent, this is something that can cause great anxiety if there's a disconnection or a sense of well-being if there's a strong connection. Let's say that my son's teacher took the time to get to know me, emailed me updates, told me funny stories, and made me feel like I knew her.

How would I feel? Calm, good about my son being at school more than with me.But what if the opposite were true, what if I didn't know his teacher or see that she cared about my son? It would be a different experience. I might be more anxious and certainly less sure of the school.”

Customer experience 

Customer experience and retention go hand in hand. Today’s parents are giving their kids more of a say in where they go to school, so they're more likely to move them if the children report being unhappy.

On the same token, if parents are unhappy with you, they'll find it easier to leave if you haven't provided them with a great customer experience. 

My philosophy on retention - nail the three C’s. Communication, culture, and convenience. Poor communication leads to relationship breakdowns. If you don't have a strong culture, people get unhappy and they potentially leave. And when it comes to convenience, it all comes back to making life easier for families. If you can nail the three C’s, then you've got yourself a great retention strategy. - Bianca Coleborn


Retention can be difficult, but you should always focus on building relationships with your families because they’re ultimately the ones who’ll make your community great. You can celebrate birthdays, showcase student work in newsletters, or do anything else that will help to improve those one-to-one relationships with your school.

Digital retention tools

Social media is a great retention tool that every school can use, and if planned strategically can reaffirm your school’s value proposition. After all, when parents continue to see the value of a school, they're more likely to stay. Social media gives families a more holistic view of what's happening at their school, and the value their school offers their child.

Another digital tool that can be very effective is the survey. By surveying your families you can figure out what's going well and what can be improved, and use concrete data to make more decisive decisions. Using a similar survey year over year allows you to go back and track the data, and gives you a great long-term picture of your school’s performance. You can also use historical data to set up preventative and proactive measures for the long term, which also gives your teams a strong framework to work around. 

You also shouldn’t be afraid to ask for feedback from parents who are in the process of churning. While it can be painful, it can also form the basis of your prevention plan. If you have a high churn rate in your middle school. If, for example, the feedback was that the facilities in your middle school are lacking compared to those of your junior school, you can use this information in board meetings when funding and future planning is being discussed.


You should now have a greater understanding of why parents choose to leave your school, and what you can do to prevent it. By focusing your team’s efforts on retention and making use of the right strategies, you should be able to keep families on board and satisfied with their experience at your school. 

Watch Episode Twelve - A Recipe for Retention
You can find the full episode here
Published October 31 2022