For most education leaders, the concept of building a school competitive analysis is a somewhat foreign one. Traditionally, a school would be built in a growing area and students who lived in that area would be bused to the school. The district would manage capacity by shifting around catchment areas and most school-based leaders would not have to worry about enrollment figures.
As school choice has increased and more and more schools are fighting for the same students, it is important for every school to know its market and how it compares against its competitive set.
Understanding the different options available to your potential parent base is critical as you strive to make your school better and more attractive to customers. A good competitive snapshot definitely should be part of your core marketing program and can help to provide a focus for different programs or initiatives of the school. For example, if you are a charter school in downtown Indianapolis, you don’t necessarily want to be starting a STEM-oriented program knowing that Purdue University (one of the top engineering colleges in the nation), is set to open up a competing high school in your area.
So how do you go about gathering this data? The good news is that it is pretty easy. With the expansion of school choice, a number of websites have sprung up to help parents understand their different options. There are a number of these, but my favorite is www.greatschools.org. Go to this website and enter your school address. You will see a list of all the schools within certain geography around your address. Refine your search based upon your individual circumstances. Do you primarily compete with public schools or private schools? Are you a neighborhood school that generally pulls from a small radius or are you a specialized school that attracts students from a wider area? Once you have refined your parameters and done your search, capture all of this information into a spreadsheet. Then it is very easy to use google or other mapping programs to give you a good understanding geographically of your competitive set. You will amaze your board and your staff with an awesome looking map that allows you to demonstrate the competitive market.
But that is just the first step. It is easy to go on the department of education websites and pull down academic data, enrollment numbers, mobility rates, etc. An awful lot of data is there for the taking. Adding in qualitative data from former students, parents or online review sites can round out the picture of each competitive school.
Understanding what your competitive set is allows you to make better decisions. Were you congratulating yourself because your standardized test scores outperformed the state average? Compare that against your competitive set and understand if you are standing out in the crowd. Wondering why a certain suburb no longer is a prime sending location for your schools? Perhaps the new charter in the area is pulling those students.
Understanding your market is the first step in developing an actionable marketing plan for your school. A conducting a school competitive analysis needs to be the first step in understanding your market.