If there’s one thing producing growth across diverse industries these days, it’s disruptive innovation — deep and valuable change that redefines processes, markets, customer experience, and, ultimately, results.
It’s the only way for organizations to survive.
Examples can be found everywhere. Technology is booming across sectors; major giants such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are continuing to find ways to disrupt and grow under seemingly infinite ceilings. In higher education, leaders are transforming their organizations and schools as well. Take Southern New Hampshire University. Gone is the small college in Manchester, NH, replaced with a widely recognized superpower in undergraduate and graduate online education.
The common disruption factor across these industries? Organizations are rethinking their standard ways of doing business in order to make it easier for ALL people to access and use their services.
Why do I mention these things? It’s clear that the independent school industry is also one ripe for disruption.
In order for independent schools to stay ahead of industry trends, demographic shifts, and disruption by competitors, they must embrace the same agile leadership and out-of-the-box thinking that other sectors are displaying.
In particular, independent schools need to develop a lens for equity and inclusion to stay ahead of the trends, simplify processes, increase access, and position their institutions as industry superpowers.
Why? For one, it is clearly the right way to be thinking about our work. But from a much more fundamental perspective, appealing to and serving more people will increase enrollment. Plain and simple.
So how can independent schools begin to look for disruptive innovation opportunities? Here are a few ideas to get started:
This summer, audit your entire enrollment management process, with a lens toward anti-bias work and new technology.
Explore ways to bundle your admissions process to make it more simple, accessible, and efficient for your market.
Align with your peers: there is no way you will open your funnel to more students unless you sync up with their processes, and level the playing field for your families.
Let’s look at how this is happening here in Chicago.
This spring, The Enrollment Management Association (EMA) is partnering with the Lake Michigan Association for Independent Schools to research and develop strategies to make the Chicago admissions process more efficient and streamlined.
As is normal in many of our markets, independent schools in Chicago have many different approaches to enrollment management, particularly around equity and inclusion. For example:
- How do schools identify prospective families? Some run a traditional inquiry process through their website, while others do an extensive fair circuit; and some stay at home and fill their funnel with paid leads.
- What kind of process do these families go through? Some still use paper applications, others have their own online platform, while some do a combination of both. Most families in a market like Chicago will use between two and five different platforms to apply to an average of three independent schools.
- When do families find out about acceptances? Many schools follow aligned deadlines for admission decisions, with about a month for decisions to return from the families. Some offer rolling admissions and make decisions as the applications come in, some do a blend of both. (*EMA SOTI Chicago 2020)
The bottom line here is that independent schools in most, if not all, of our markets (including Chicago) are asking families to jump through an incredible number of hoops.
What might a disruptive solution be here?
For schools to truly level the playing field and create an efficient, smart, and equitable process for enrollment management, they could move toward a common application process -- or more specifically, a common application platform.
Consider an average family applying to independent schools, and the number of login touchpoints they go through. If there could be one simple login point, that is a win. A huge win, because it shortens families’ path to application, and it gives them a one-stop-shop for the majority of the process.
For EMA members, the Standard Application Online could be the industry disruptor schools need. From its price point (free for members) to its high-tech customizable platform, the SAO offers a smart, technology-forward strategy to modernize the admission process and stay ahead of trends coming our way, with a massive lens toward equity, access, and inclusion.
While this is one solution for industry disruption, this work is ongoing. We need to see industry leaders putting their strategic hats on, and taking risks in order to keep our doors open to all.