Almaden Country School
Almaden Country School (ACS) is an independent, non-religious elementary school in San Jose which offers substantial tuition aid. Any child who applies and is accepted can attend ACS. ACS has nearly 350 students enrolled in grades pre-kindergarten through eight. The school has an annual budget of approximately $7 million and a staff of sixty supported by an additional 250 parent volunteers. It was founded in 1982 and enjoys a reputation for providing a solid academic foundation focused on discovering the gifts in every child.
Enrollment peaked at 424 students in 2012 and has declined since. In 2015-16, enrollment was 378; for 2016-2017, it will be down to 340. The administration believes that there are several factors – declining birth rate, high cost of housing, traffic patterns, tuition increases, and an aging facility – but is not sure if they are missing some key issues. A capital campaign will kick off in 2017 to address the facility issue.
ACS asked the ACT team to determine the reasons for declining enrollment and recommend changes to ACS’s marketing mix, including product, pricing, and promotion to address and reverse declining enrollment.
The project consisted of data analysis and interviews, and emphasis was placed on early childhood education, where the client was experiencing declining enrollment; however, because parents choose schools with the goal of the child remaining through matriculation, the entire school’s curriculum was analyzed and addressed in interviews.
The client provided zip code-based data on numbers of students in preschool through kindergarten. Data and demographic analysis was performed by zip code for the percentage population under five years using the U.S. Census, and the birthrate was analyzed using California public health data. Finally, income for the client’s target market was included in the analysis using IRS data.
A thorough analysis of the competition was conducted. Almaden Country competes with the highest performing public schools in the San Jose Unified school district, as well as an attractive charter school and numerous private schools, many of which offer new facilities and some of which offer lower tuition.
Interviews of administration, trustees, and staff were conducted, as well as two focus groups: one for parents and one for teachers. Telephone interviews of parents who rejected admission offers were conducted.
The client’s marketing mix was analyzed and recommendations were made regarding future tuition, the school’s website, and other promotional efforts. The school’s curriculum and facilities were discussed, particularly its mathematics curriculum in light of engineering families moving to the area.
Trends and circumstances were divided into those ACS could control and those it could not. While ACS cannot control the local aging population, low birth rate or high-performing competition, it can offer accelerated math to address market concerns, and it can significantly update its website and use new social media tools such as Next Door in its promotional efforts.
Because the original owners of homes in Almaden Valley will remain for some time, it was recommended that ACS draw students from neighboring areas with age, income, and other demographics that support the use of private schools. Willow Glen, parts of South San Jose, Los Gatos, and Silver Creek, where ACS already draws some students, were given as examples.
A clear marketing message is sorely needed, and past ACS messaging, no longer used today, was identified as relevant for today’s market.
Based on interviews, it was recommended that after the latest tuition increase, pricing was about as high as the market could bear. It was also recommended ACS provide early acceptance notification to parents to avoid losing students to competitors.
The school’s aging facilities do need addressing. However, the school has already created a capital campaign to address these issues.
ACS is facing declining enrollment for several reasons: an aging local population of original home owners and a somewhat isolated geographic location; high performing competition; a curriculum that doesn’t address market demand, such as a lack of accelerated math; a lack of a clear marketing message; and an outdated website. ACS is largely a high-performing school, and can address most of these issues to reverse declining enrollment.
Final Report Outline
- Data analysis and declined admission offer findings
- Interview and focus group findings
- Competitive analysis
- Marketing mix recommendations
U.S. Census, California Health Department birthrate statistics, IRS individual income data