Download the EMA's Recent 2023 The Yield Magazine
It’s that time again to prepare for the new academic year ahead. And one way to get started is by leveraging valuable insights and guidance from independent school experts. In EMA's most recent The Yield Magazine cover story, hear from Hans Mundahl, Chief Operating Officer, Derrick Gay, LLC (formerly EMA’s Senior Director of Professional Development), and Suzanne Walker Buck, Head of School, Western Reserve Academy, Ohio, to get their thoughts on the current enrollment environment for independent schools and how our community can embrace change to improve the student experience.
Consider for instance, how the pandemic disrupted students’ academic progress and mental health across the country. EMA’s 2022 report Effects of COVID-19 on Educational Outcomes explored independent school student applicant data reviewing their verbal, quantitative and written reasoning scores before and after the pandemic. The report cites overall SSAT score (mean) changes from pre-COVID by subject and level, most significantly among middle school students in quantitative (-1.5%) and upper school students in reading (-1.1%). Further, EMA’s Character Skills Snapshot scores declined in an important area for student success — resilience (-0.1 for middle students and -0.08 for upper students). All of EMA’s research findings correlate with other national studies on student academic and social and emotional losses during the pandemic.
So, what is motivating prospective families as they consider educational options for their children? In a 2022 report, McKinsey and Company cited an average pandemic learning loss equivalent of eight months for every child in the United States. Additionally, 80% of educators report that their students’ social skills and emotional maturity levels are much less advanced (39%) or somewhat less advanced (41%) than before the pandemic, according to a January 2022 study by EdWeek Research Center. Clearly, parents are noting these losses, and seeking the help of independent schools to close those gaps for their children. For independent school enrollment leaders, it’s becoming clear that they must work to assess academic readiness issues, so that schools are able to prepare to onboard students for success in their communities.
And beyond student losses, today’s dynamic enrollment swings nationally from the tailwinds of the pandemic, have created ongoing uncertainty for school leaders everywhere. The NAIS Trendbook 2022-2023 shows that median enrollment in independent schools has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2023, with 60% of schools reporting higher enrollment in 2021-2022 than in 2017-2018. Yet, a closer look at the data reveals stark differences in enrollment outcomes by region and school size: shifts in the demographics of the school-aged population, significant movement in the education market, and continuing economic uncertainty — all factors that the pandemic has exacerbated, and that confound enrollment planning. Even with the positive enrollment bump post pandemic, independent schools have been losing students overall when reviewing 20-year trend lines. As demographics shift across the country, and the youth-aged cohorts change within regions, cities, and counties, independent school leaders must be aware of how those population shifts will affect their enrollment, and, of course, their school’s bottom line.