By KATIE BORKOWSKI
With a new school year comes the counting of pupils. This year the number of students in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City is 6,104, which is an increase from last year.
According to Stacia Thompson, director of enrollment, the bright spots and places with growth in enrollment are Boone Sacred Heart, Emmetsburg Catholic, Algona Bishop Garrigan and Storm Lake St. Mary’s. The other schools are remaining stable and not losing students.
“Our schools are working really hard on their enrollment,” said Thompson. “We are seeing that start to pay off.”
The number of non-Catholic students has gone up to 16 percent and the Latino enrollment is about 10.5 percent, which is up about 50 students.
“Our demographic is changing, so we are trying to capitalize on the communities that are having growth,” said Thompson. “One of the areas that we are trying to focus on is our early childhood – preschool and kindergarten age.”
Retention, she noted, is more than 90 percent, but the biggest drop in retention is from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten.
“The challenge is to show the value of the Catholic education when they go from preschool to kindergarten and begin paying tuition or more tuition,” said Thompson. “We have found once they get into our schools and experience a Catholic school, they tend to stay with us.”
Though the progress is pleasing, Dan Ryan, Ed.D., superintendent of Catholic
schools, said they are not yet satisfied.
“Everyone is creating a sharper focus on enrollment, both through our strategic planning process and our collaboration with Creighton University on the Enrollment Champions Program,” he said. “I look forward to the progress from both of those over the coming years.”
Creighton University, in collaboration with the Diocese of Sioux City, has developed a curriculum to assist participants with the development of an annual marketing and recruitment plan.
Ryan explained the rationale behind the adoption of this program “came from the realization that we were asking a lot of people to do tasks they have never really been trained on.”
“Enrollment management is a pretty specialized combination of skills from different areas – customer service, marketing and quality of programs,” he added.
The curriculum is delivered over a 24-month period both in a face-to-face format, as well as online, explained Mary E. Chase, Ed.D., vice provost for enrollment and university planning at Creighton University in Omaha.
“Participants come to campus three times during the first year and spend time collaborating online and developing segments of the marketing and recruitment plan between visits to campus,” she said.
There are 20 participants from the Catholic schools in the diocese, including one participant from each school, who are sharing their ideas and feedback.
“We felt it was important to have a person at the local level who understood their school and their community,” said Thompson. “We can’t physically be in all of the communities. We also needed a team. We know enrollment needs to be a priority for our schools to remain solvent, thriving and to advance our mission.”
The idea is for the schools to share ideas since they have a lot of things in common, commented Thompson.
“The participants have done some terrific work thus far,” said Chase. “They are creative and have a passion for enrolling more students in the Catholic school system. It is clear to the Creighton faculty that the Diocese of Sioux City is committed to changing the world through Catholic education. The leaders in the diocese are not leaving the long-term health of the school systems to chance and taking the necessary steps to create a sustainable business model for Catholic education.”
Ryan thinks the program is going well so far. He said there are some strategies the school personnel and Thompson are “adapting quickly.”
“There are some concepts that have been really challenging to our current understanding, so those have been a little harder,” said Ryan. “They have worked through those together.”
By the end of this school year, each of the schools will have written an individual enrollment plan specific to their location, said Thompson.
“It is a road map for the school to use or if personnel changes,” she said. “In year two of the program, we will be evaluating and reviewing the plans and how the implementation of it worked.”
Catholic school impact
As a Kuemper Catholic graduate, Chase noted the sustainability of Catholic education in the diocese “is near and dear to my heart. I wish more families were willing the make the necessary sacrifices and consider Catholic schools.”
“The Catholic school system impacted my life and being a part of this project, I am hopeful I can play some part in helping families realize the added value Catholic education brings to students and families,” said Chase. “Our hope is that with the work the participants are doing, enrollment growth can occur. We also believe the intentional effort to share ideas and learn from others within the diocese can help overall growth.”
Ultimately, she added, the plan developed by the participants will provide a roadmap to future enrollment planning.
“Enrollment is important because when we have more children in the seats, it allows us to fulfill our mission on a bigger stage,” said Ryan. “It does help the finances. It helps morale. It is a really important component that needs to be tied in with everything else and that is why we are putting such a special focus on it.”