By KATIE BORKOWSKI
A stronger emphasis has been placed on Catholic school enrollment in the Diocese of Sioux City to help keep the schools thriving and growing.
To achieve that goal, the diocese is collaborating with Creighton University in a program called Enrollment Champions, a curriculum to assist participants with the development of an annual marketing and recruitment plan.
Dan Ryan, Ed.D., superintendent of Catholic schools, 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.
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 Stacia Thompson, director of enrollment. “We know enrollment needs to be a priority for our schools to remain solvent, thriving and to advance our mission.”
The participants in the program range from development personnel to a guidance counselor to parent volunteers.
Deacon Dan Goebel, development and enrollment director at Spalding Catholic, has learned some interesting data trends for his community and school through the enrollment program.
“We are also learning how to put together a comprehensive enrollment and marketing plan for each of our schools,” he said. “Besides compiling and sharing a substantial amount of data, we will also be utilizing the structure for researching, writing and implementing our respective enrollment and marketing plan.”
From an operational standpoint, Deacon Goebel emphasized enrollment is key to the survival of any school.
“When the number of students decreases, the cost per student increases,” he said. “We always want to be good stewards of the resources our parishes, families and supporters invest in us, so when we have more students at our schools, the impact of those investments will be greater.”
The development and enrollment director explained many times there is a “false perception” that enrollment and marketing is the job of one person or a team.
“This is inaccurate because each one of us (staff, parents, students, and so on) represent their school at all times, whether we realize it or not,” said Goebel. “The way we live our lives will either attract or detract others from our school.”
Jana Tufty, school counselor at St. Mary School in Remsen, has learned “so much” through the Enrollment Champions program.
“First it has helped me learn the school system quite well,” she said. “This is my first year at RSM and I was a little fearful about learning the enrollment aspect as well as the school aspect. It has been a challenge but very beneficial in both areas.”
Remsen St. Mary’s has implemented numerous things Tufty learned – shadow days for potential students and point of contact.
“We have also made improvements in areas such as signage and our website, although we look forward to when our new layout from the diocese comes out for the web page,” she said.
“I have really enjoyed the enrollment champion class,” said Tufty. “It was very challenging at first juggling counseling and the class but I find it very interesting and helpful. I hope it helps make all of our schools have more successful enrollment outcomes.”
Enrollment, she said, is a huge part of Catholic schools and without students the school could no longer exist.
“We are hoping to show families in our surrounding areas that Catholic school is an option for their children,” said Tufty. “Everyone is welcome at our schools and focusing our efforts on enrollment can show that.”
The participant from Sheldon St. Patrick’s is a parent volunteer, Megan McCabe, who currently has a first grader, Cullen Trego, attending the school.
“I have learned about the various aspects of enrollment and marketing and how to look at our school and its message or brand from a range of perspectives and areas,” she said. “I have also learned quite a bit about what other schools in the diocese are doing to increase enrollment and how to take some of those ideas and apply them to our school’s unique needs.”
At St. Patrick’s, McCabe said, they are still creating their enrollment plan, but “we have already become more purposeful in our actions. There is more thought about what message we are presenting and who the target audience is; also, looking at what actions create the best results.”
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.”
Deacon Goebel is inspired by seeing all the Catholic schools from around the diocese working together, “sharing our struggles and successes, encouraging each other to provide the best experience for our families.”
“The best-practices that the Creighton instructors provided have been very helpful,” said Goebel. “In addition, the input and ideas of our sister Catholic schools has also been a great resource to provide ideas and insight. Some of the ideas they provide are options for us to consider implementing and we share ideas that others may not have considered. This structure has helped provide a mechanism for the Catholic schools of the diocese to work together more effectively.”
For McCabe the value of the Catholic schools is “immeasurable in so many ways.”
“So placing an emphasis on enrollment can help us to think outside the box and find new areas of need that we, as a school, can possibly meet for our communities,” she said. “The end results are going to a huge asset to our school.”