It had been almost three years since I last attended the annual Enrollment Management Association’s (EMA) Annual Conference. It was exciting and re-energizing to be with my colleagues in person again this year. The hugs, smiles, and camaraderie were exceptional and much needed after the pandemic.

These administrators and educators are the essential individuals who bring in new families and are tasked with retaining and getting their graduates ready for the real world. They are the best and brightest in the field of admissions, enrollment management, and school placement, and they have had to improvise and adjust again and again since COVID arrived as an unwelcome guest in March 2020.

Heather Hoerle, executive director of EMA, and other experts in the field of enrollment management highlighted several potentially significant trends that all schools need to acknowledge and create an effective strategy to address. One example is the rise in school choice with the growth of charter schools, independent schools, and special education schools. Another disturbing result of the pandemic is that, according to NAIS, students have lost up to eight months of learning. Hoerle said parents today are scrutinizing whether the education their child receives is the most value for their hard-earned income in an environment of higher tuition, inflation, energy prices, and housing, contributing to heightened anxiety.

Families also consider how schools create a sense of community, safety, and belonging. With the growing competition and expansion of less expensive charter and hybrid schools, the decisions administrators and educators face in offering a superior educational experience while dealing with cost constraints will be a more significant challenge than in the past.

Retention of students has never mattered more, and schools must look at ways to keep their students, parents, and caregivers satisfied. For independent and special education schools and programs, enrollment success depends on factors far beyond the admissions office. How school leaders work together in multi-faceted ways will be critical to student success and a school’s survival.

Nathan Kuncel, psychology professor and scholar at the University of Minnesota, feels that rituals have never been more critical. He said, “Rituals can provide a sense of stability, facilitate social connectedness, and knit communities together. Given the length of this pandemic, it is fair to assume the need for consistency and rituals are even higher among key stakeholders in schools—teachers, administrators, students, and parents.”

There is a direct relationship between mental health and academic performance. According to Tammy Moscrip, PhD, LCSW, executive director and chief administrator of the Spire School in Stamford, CT, while we hope the COVID health crisis is behind us, the social, emotional, and academic impacts on our students are still very much present. The resulting decrease in educational and skills, heightened anxiety, depression, isolation, reduced classroom engagement, and a lack of motivation has created a crisis for our adolescent learners.

So, where do schools go from here? Schools must redouble their efforts to partner with parents, teachers, clinicians, and staff to ensure that every student is known and seen. More frequent communication is paramount. Parents want to hear from schools in the good times too, not only when they get that dreaded call that their child skipped class or did not hand in their homework.

As all schools try to put COVID in the rearview mirror, strategizing on how best to address the COVID learning deficits, social issues, and emotional loss, we as independent educational consultants need to take that extra step to reach out to ensure that students and parents know we are here to help.

By Victoria C. Newman, MSEd, CEP, Greenwich Educational Group, IECA (CT)