Sell a Solution, Not a Product
Aug 14, 2010 Other 2016 Views
The education market is highly competitive. At the free end are public and charter schools. The low-priced solutions are home schooling and cyber schools. At the high end are the parochial schools and private schools.
The perception of many people is that a tuition-based school is overpriced. The value of an "A" from one school is about the same as any other school. Diplomas from accredited schools are about equal. Accurate or not that is often the view.
How do you justify the tuition in that market?
The simple answer is; it is doubtful that one can. It is easy to say that the school needs the tuition to pay teachers, maintain the building, and meet other expenses. However, that ignores the family's need to justify the cost when the free alternative looks equally good.
From a marketing point of view, the low cost and free providers offer a product (diploma or academic education). If tuition-based schools attempts to compete in that market they will suffer declines in enrollment, lower student retention rates, and eventually close. Unfortunately, it is happening across the country. The rate of closing is accelerating.
The best response is to change markets. Stop providing a product and provide a solution. Many of the closed or closing schools will tell you that they provide a solution - Christian education.
Many people perceive this to mean everything the public schools offer plus a religious education class. Whether it is fair or appropriate is unimportant. Because of the limited resources of the school, perhaps the sports or other extracurricular activities are less robust. In short, the family must choose religion and give up something else in return, and pay tuition.
It is easy for you and I to agree that a faith-based education is a solution to many of the community's problems. However, that is unimportant. What is important is the perception of the families that must pay the tuition and the donors who must support the school.
In harsh terms, the families who see faith-based education as a solution have their children enrolled in a faith-based school. The other families have their children enrolled somewhere else.
The solution the other people are looking for is a student whose life changes by attending the school. The donors, community, and parents want to know in advance, what the change will be.
Let us assume that a school defines its solution to society's needs as providing students with a strong moral foundation. What is the structured curriculum for doing that? Is there evidence of success? For instance, is the teen pregnancy rate significantly lower than the public and charter school rates? Is the drug usage rate significantly lower than the public and charter school rates? Is the crime rate significantly lower than the public and charter school rates? Are there other measures of a moral life that the school can point to with pride?
One school we are aware of claimed to provide a moral foundation for their students. When challenged they produced an excellent religious education class curriculum. The students knew their Bible history and understood the moral teachings. However, from arrest records, pregnancy rates, and other measures it was obvious the students were unable to translate education into action.
The school was unable to build a credible reputation as a problem solver. Even with an unlimited marketing budget, at this time it is nearly impossible to increase the enrollment at that school or justify the tuition to a significant number of families. Create a credible reputation for the school and marketing becomes a minor challenge.
We have become a numbers-driven and evidence-based society. Too many times, we have been promised great results only to be disappointed. Now we only trust the numbers that are independently verifiable and constantly improving. Every day the headlines tell us how BP is doing and our satisfaction with their performance depends on the last set of numbers.
Define the solution the school provides and that the community values
Develop a non-academic curriculum for producing the promised solution
Define how to measure and independently verify success
Hold the entire school board, staff, volunteers, students, and parents accountable for producing what society values
Communicate the status (success or otherwise, because being open and transparent is part of building trust and being accountable).
There are hundreds of problems worth solving for the families and our communities. Pick the one that your school is best equipped to handle then revisit your mission statement and ensure there is an alignment.
As the school achieves verifiable, evidence-based success, enrollment and community support will increase. Reputation building is a slow process. It takes patience and persistence. A strong reputation adds to long-term sustainability.
The best part of this process is the immediate effect it has on the students. As the programming becomes stronger, the depth of change in each life becomes greater.
It is likely to be some time before the public and charter schools begin to offer solutions to society's needs. In many communities, they are having a hard time providing a quality product. Take advantage of this opportunity to build your base.