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FastStats 2017: Admissions Trends

Friday, June 16, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By: Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: April 2017



In this Fast Stats, I investigate the 10-year trends for admission funnel and attrition data in SAIS schools.

The admission funnel describes the numbers of students who move from inquiries, to applications, to acceptances, and finally to enrollees. Naturally, the numbers of students in the process decrease as they filter through the process at a given school.

I will also investigate attrition trends. Attrition is defined as the number of students who leave your school (other than by graduation). Of course, a certain amount of attrition is normal in every school. Indeed, some schools have high attrition rates because of their situation. For example, many LD schools have intentionally high attrition because a number of the students only need a specific intervention for a portion of the K-12 educational cycle.

Figure 1 shows the trend for median number of inquiries, applications, acceptances, and newly enrolled students in SAIS schools over the past 16 years. Most notable is that the median overall inquiries have declined over the past 16 years, from approximately 550 in 2001-2002 to 375 in 2016-2017. Whereas, the median number of applications, acceptances and newly enrolled students have stayed steady.

Why is there a clear decline in the number of inquiries? It’s hard to imagine the answer is as simple as fewer families are looking. Perhaps, the increase in the number of new independent schools is spreading out the number of inquiries across a larger base? Perhaps, with the drastic overall improvement of the information available online for most schools, families are much more savvy from the start. This may result in either no inquiry because the costs or mission become clear, or, the family is given enough information to “target” their search. So, instead of inquiring at four or five schools, they now inquire at two or three schools.

Ultimately, there are two possible conclusions that result from the decreasing number of inquiries and the consistent number of applications, acceptances, and newly enrolled students. First, both parents and schools are doing a better job of targeting and communicating what they need and who they are and thus potential and realistic matches are discovered or communicated earlier in the process, i.e., before formal inquiries are made.

Second, schools are simply enrolling a wider range of students than they did at the beginning of this century. The substantial growth of specialized learning centers and programs in many SAIS schools might support this conclusion.



Figures 2 and 3 dissect the admission funnel a little further. Figure 2 shows both the median percentage of inquiries to applications and applications to acceptances over the past 16 years. In keeping with trends displayed in Figure 1, the actual median percentage of inquiries to applications (blue line) increased from 37% to 50% over the past 16 years. Whereas, the median percentage of applications to acceptances hovered around 75%.



Figure 3 shows the median percentage of inquiries, applications and acceptances to newly enrolled students. Acceptances to newly enrolled students have remained steady at 75%. However, applications to newly enrolled students have increased from 26% to 35%, and inquiries to newly enrolled students has increased from 20% to 27%.


As all Heads know, the back end of the enrollment process is as important as the front end. Figure 4 shows the median attrition rate for SAIS schools over the past 16 years. Again, this measure of attrition reflects the students who leave the school, other than by graduation...when you actually do want them to leave the school. What you see in Figure 4 is mainly stability in overall attrition rates.

The typical SAIS school has about 8% attrition. Although, there is some variation in the trend line. There’s a slight dip (i.e., improvement) that coincides with the economic boom just before the great recession and there’s a small spike that coincides with the economic downturn that followed the great recession. Over the 16 years, the difference between the lowest attrition year (2006-2007 - 7.3%) and the highest attrition year (2009-2010 - 9.6%) is 2.6%.

Important to note is that the attrition rate since the great recession is likely moderated by the more aggressive use of financial aid. Thus, although stability is depicted by the numbers, the rules of the game changed somewhat to no doubt to bolster that stability. The primary implication for independent schools is that although enrollment numbers are comparable, net revenue is likely down somewhat.



As always, the best use of the data presented is to compare it with your own school. For this FastStats, I would suggest calculating your own funnel percentages and compare those against the benchmarks presented and if markedly different, ask why. For example, if your inquiries seem to be aligned but applications are well below the average, you might consider your approach to inquiries. Similarly, compare your trend for attrition versus the benchmarks presented and ask why, if it varies in a way you did not expect.

With admission season winding down in most schools, I hope you all have hit your targets and have had a wonderful year doing the great work that you do.



Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the head of school at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at



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