For many schools, the vast majority of operating dollars come from tuition revenues, and this reality puts the focus squarely on the admission office at all times of the year.
While there are cycles specific to the admission office, the other areas that admission directly impacts are discussed throughout the school - throughout the year. Your data can be crucial to the operations of many other functions:
- The business office – may want to know the number of full - fee paying families or how much of the financial aid budget has been allocated
- The development office – wants to know how many new families are in the school
- The curriculum leaders – want to know the relative academic strengths of the incoming class
- The athletic director – needs to know if any new admits have the capacity to change a team’s fortunes
- The head and the board – need to know the fit, yield data, reasons why people turn down an offer, and the overall future sustainabilty of the applicant pool.
In short, admission serves many masters and has an obligation to serve all school interests.
In order to meet and exceed these expectations, a modern and thoughtful admission office must track and assess the data points that influence the decision-making process and, by extension, the financial health of the school. The trick can often be determining what data matters and is worth utilizing – and what data is simply clouding the decision making process. This can be an incredibly complex process, given the abundance of data available for collection.
In his book The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver asks this important question: What data is providing us the meaningful signal, and which is simply noise? The book looks at the influence of data-based decision making in contexts outside of independent school admission, but the message is clearly applicable. The question for each admission office then becomes: What data do we base decisions on to serve the mission and secure financial stability?
The answer is likely different for every admission office and will be based on the school’s mission, desired attributes for the incoming class, sophistication of the admission process, and the database being used. Of great importance – and often overlooked – is the degree to which other areas of the school’s administration use the available data. Marketing, communications, development, curriculum, athletic and co-curricular school leaders can all better understand their constituents by utilizing the information that can be found in your admission office.
In the end, all aspects of a school need to be pulling in the same direction. The goal is the fulfillment of the mission and everyone in the school is in service to that mission. The data found in your admission office can inform all aspects of school programming and creative direction. Ask yourself if your school is paying attention to the signal or the noise that can be found in data. Distinguish between the two, and leverage the signal to ensure school sustainability by bringing together all who can benefit from the data to share the work of mission fulfillment.