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Fortune Telling in Times of Trouble

By Orna Siegel posted 05-05-2020 12:01 PM


As enrollment and admission professionals, we play many roles, but lately I’ve been cast as fortune teller. I grab my veils, set the mood lighting and thunk my crystal ball on the table so everyone in the Zoom meeting can see it. Will we lose a lot of enrolled students if we don’t re-open our campus in September? How large does our COVID-19 emergency fund need to be to retain and enroll students? What will the impact of this pandemic be on the school for the next 3-5 years?

While these are all worthy questions to consider, how can we demonstrate leadership and offer insights when the situation is novel?

Gather Evidence

Just as our amazing schools educate our students to develop informed hypotheses based on evidence, we too can look to history, culture, current events, and economic forecasts to do the same.

  • Many have suggested looking back at the 2009 financial crisis to make enrollment and financial aid predictions. Consider your own school’s experience and what is going on in your area in terms of employment and financial well-being to determine how relevant this metric is for your school’s forecast.
  • Another point to explore is the ways in which your school has played with price elasticity in the past. Can you find evidence of having used tuition setting and targeted financial aid to enroll or re-enroll students with success? By looking at those numbers, is it possible to quantify how much might be needed for families who are experiencing significant loss of income?

What are the variables you can control?

When everything else is in chaos, it is critical to identify where you have control and then make choices that are most likely to yield the results you want. How many students might we recruit or retain by:

  • Using our marketing and communications specialists to celebrate our distance learning program on social media?
  • Exploring the idea of creating a temporary emergency fund to allay anxiety among families in a way that will encourage them to stay at your school while maintaining the financial stability of your school for the long term?
  • Listening to our families to find out about their current experience. If school buildings must remain closed through the beginning of the school year, discover what is working and what parents value about the distance learning program.

While the long term impact of the pandemic is unknown, there is a lot of data we can use from DASL, our local associations, and our own schools to help us move forward. You don’t need to know how to read tea leaves, just use what you know and focus on elements that you can control to build the best possible model guide your school.

Orna Siegel
Orna Siegel
Director of Enrollment and Tuition Assistance
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
1 comment



05-08-2020 09:50 AM

Very good article.  After so many years in the business, I had thought that I'd seen pretty much everything.  As we move out of this crisis, we will all be searching for indicators of where we are going and how fast.  Since consumer spending drives about 70% of the US economy, I am watching consumer confidence data.  In 2010, I did a study of our financial aid applicants and found that about two-thirds of them did not feel prosperous enough to commit to the tuition that SSS indicated they were capable of paying.  I called the gap between expressed need and demonstrated need "perceived need" and it was another six years before that number dropped below 50%.  I feel that our pathway out of this crisis will be similar, and that our families will be worried about their abilities to pay our tuitions.  As Orna points out, emergency funds, additional spending on financial aid, and so much more, will be required to address this mess.  A good read is Pat Bassett's essay "Sophie's Choice" and the tension between access and affordability.  If we were not living in "affordability land" before, we are now.  Good discussions to come.