I wrote this article nine years ago and came across it in my archives when searching for a relevant subject for a post today. With a few editorial revisions, it’s as relevant today as it was when I wrote it in 2007.
Student retention is one of the hallmark elements in assessing a career school's effectiveness. The question is how to truly affect high retention rates continuously.
One of the challenges is defining where the problem exists. Most of the effort in finding solutions to retention issues is focused on solving systemic problems. But that's missing the mark in my opinion. The initial focus has to be on getting to know your students. To know how to succeed in the career school business and maintain high retention rates is inseparable from knowing your students. You can't have one without the other.
We have created a checklist for school owners to study and put into action. It's based on information from 9 Lies That Are Holding Your Business Back by Steve Chandler and Sam Beckford. These guidelines have direct application to the career school business, and if applied consistently, may virtually eliminate retention worries (hopefully).
Focus on Your Ideal High-Value Students and Ignore the Rest
- You don't want every student in your school. A lot of school owners make a big mistake by thinking that they should try to get any student they can.
- Most career schools are capacity businesses. That means you can only accommodate and service a maximum number of enrollments and students effectively. And if you think that squeaking by with a 70% retention and a 70% placement rate is OK for your business, guess again.
- Think of a hotel. If a hotel in a busy season has 100 rooms and 90 of those rooms are filled with kids on spring break, it may have to turn away a lot of much better customers because it has reached capacity. A business traveler with an expense account who uses room service and will not steal items from the minibar is a much better customer for the hotel.
- Don't waste time and money attracting students that are bad for your school. Think of your best students; the students who never complained about your tuition; the students who believe your instruction and quality of service are excellent; the students who pay their fees on time; the students who were referred to you by other good students or constantly refer business to you. Those are the types of students you need to attract to your school.
- From where did your best students come? Whatever the sources, then advertise heavily in those sources.
- From where did your worst, most problematic students come? Whatever the sources, eliminate them.
- Poll your best students and ask how they originally found your school. If you're doing a good job, they'll be glad to tell you and help you grow your school.
High retention is a direct result of effective marketing and advertising that recruits students that are good for your school, and admissions policies that promote enrolling those good students.
These students are your greatest assets, and the ones you will retain; the ones that will refer other good students to you; the ones that will help you grow and prosper.
Here's the Gamelin Axiom for Career School Success:
"Enroll only qualified and employable people in quality programs of choice that teach in-demand skills, and market graduates vigorously to employers who need those skills."
If you adopt this axiom as part of your mission and carry out your mission, I venture to say that your retention and placement problems will be solved forever.
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