Education
K-12
Opinion

Understanding Enrollment Loss in Your District

School districts across the country have been challenged with decreasing enrollment numbers, in part impacted by the pandemic and alternative education options that parents explored during that time. While much of that student migration was predictably temporary, schools are still closely monitoring enrollment loss and gain in order to forecast and build scenarios for the future.

Linda Kraft
Linda Kraft
VP of Customer Experience

School districts across the country have been challenged with decreasing enrollment numbers, in part impacted by the pandemic and alternative education options that parents explored during that time. While much of that student migration was predictably temporary, schools are still closely monitoring enrollment loss and gain in order to forecast and build scenarios for the future.

With per-pupil public funding tied so inextricably to enrollment numbers, district leadership are looking for any tools at their disposal to gain a better understanding of:

  • What are the causes of enrollment loss within the district?
  • What can the district do to reverse student attrition trends?
  • How can school districts become more “magnetic,” so that student migration is resulting in more inbound student flow than outbound.

Three Ways to Monitor and Counteract Student Migration

The challenge facing administrators and superintendents is manifold. One is increasing competition from a growing number of alternatives: private schools, student choice, home schooling, virtual academies, and so on. Another is understanding the myriad factors that are impacting such enrollment loss — some seemingly obvious and others lurking below the surface. And, third, once the drivers of enrollment loss are fully and completely understood, taking measures to counter student flight, and even perhaps reverse it.

Here are three tools that educators and administrators have at their disposal in the competition to retain and attract student families in and around their district.

1 – Student Migration Map

The first step is getting a clear picture as to where student flow is going, both in and out of the district. Seeing a visualization that demonstrates enrollment trends in pictures can help administrators and educators literally and figuratively see the big picture and the all of the individual data points that tell the complete story.

USA school map of year 2020 on student gain or loss.

A student migration visualization is an essential tool for understanding the ebbs and flows of students going in and out of your district to help manage and forecast enrollment. Our own Student Migration Map, for example, offers these tangible benefits:

  • A collection of charts and graphs that help you understand the magnitude and trends of student gains and losses and where they are attending.
  • It provides greater granularity and understanding of the patterns associated with student movement.
  • Users can quickly define what percentage of your resident students attend in-district versus out-of-district schools.
  • This allows district leadership to inform strategies to attract students back into the district.
  • It simplifies use of resident/non-residency data for ease of tracking ebbs and flows of student movement patterns.

Once you understand the trends, you can take a data-driven approach to examining and influencing the drivers of those trends.

2 – Early Warning Module

Superintendents, educators, administrators, principals and counselors are increasingly focused on gaining greater insights into the individual student, in addition to studying building-level and district-wide trends.

How can such a granular tool help superintendents counteract certain kinds of enrollment loss? By heading their drivers off at the pass.

Parents and families have choices when it comes to where they live and where they send their children to school. Whether evaluating districts based on school choice or sizing up whole communities to make decisions about where to move, two of the most important data points parents will look at are graduation rates and dropout rates. They intuitively understand that the better a district scores in these metrics, the more valuable the community is as a destination to live, whether they have children to educate or not, in fact.

The all-new Munetrix Early Warning Module serves as an early detection system for children potentially at risk of falling behind their peers. If early indicators of potential at-risk students can be identified earlier, they can potentially be reversed and be neutralized as drivers of dropouts — and lead to higher graduation rates.

The robust, intuitive visualization software empowers educators, administrators and counseling professionals to view the whole child behind the myriad data points:

  • Educational Performance and Progress
  • Assessment Results
  • Social Emotional Learning Benchmarking (coming soon!)
  • Demographics and Equity in Education
  • Discipline and Behavior Data
  • Attendance and Tardiness Reports
  • Student dashboard

Rather than having to log into multiple, disconnected, disparate portals, the Early Warning Module provides a singular holistic view of each student, all in one place, enabling users to connect dots, spot trends, and detect risk early on — before it’s too late to reverse course.

There are often early indicators of future enrollment loss, as well as learning loss. Attendance, behavior, social-emotional learning challenges, home-life issues, etc., are just a few. Of course, each student is an individual — not merely an anonymous data point. Having the complete picture of any one individual pupil in the district is an emerging tool in the enrollment loss reversal toolkit.

3 – Comparative Analytics

Comparative Analytics is a method of data analysis that entails comparing a district’s own data set against those of its peers. If your school or district is truly in competition with its neighbors for students, treasure and talent, peer analysis is your competitive advantage in outperforming neighboring alternatives and reversing enrollment loss in your district.

Put simply, comparative analytics refers to the process of examining your own organization’s data and performance against those of your peers and competitors to draw more informed conclusions and to make better decisions. It’s a methodology for avoiding one of the greatest perils to critical decision-making: thinking we have all of the information we need and omitting a potentially decision-changing data set.

The good news: For schools and municipalities, the performance and budgeting data for all of your competitors and benchmarked peers is publicly available. All you have to do is go find it.

One of the most informative applications of comparative analytics is to closely examine learning loss or gains in student achievement against instructional dollars invested: gains per investment. In reviewing data in districts across the U.S., we have discovered numerous instances in which increases in instructional dollars spent do not directly correlate with student achievement gains. And vice versa: some districts that boast the highest academic performance are not necessarily those spending the most on curriculum or instruction.

Expense comparison report of 2021 for general fund only.

If you can view your own historical data and forward-looking projections against those of neighboring entities with whom you may be competing, won’t you be able to make more confident decisions and more strategic allocations of budgets, personnel, investments and resources? Anything less, and you’re making critical decisions in a vacuum.

Control the Controllable, Manage the Manageable

As in any endeavor, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. With so much access to information, it is incumbent upon all of us to see the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. May these tools help you and your district compete in the arena of enrollment, student achievement and community health.

Mike Geers is Client Partnership Manager with Munetrix, and he can be reached at mgeers@munetrix.com.

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