Designing a School Satisfaction Survey

There are two ways to increase total enrollment at your school: attracting new families and retaining your existing families. Schools spend a lot of time, money and effort in attracting new families, but retention is often considered an afterthought.

It is a lot easier to keep families than it is to attract new ones.  And there is a significant cost benefit.  Different sources will cite different costs, but the standard rule of thumb that I have found is that it generally costs five times more to attract a new customer than it is to retain one.

How satisfied are your parents? What is their risk of leaving your school? What parts of the school are they satisfied with and what parts do they find lacking? The easiest way to understand this is to ask them!

Bill Gates once said that your greatest source of learning if from dissatisfied customers.  Asking your parents their opinion, even if you are a little nervous about what they say needs to be part of how your run your school.

A simple school satisfaction survey, administered yearly to both your parents and staff, will give you a wealth of information and allow you to understand how the majority of your parents and staff feel about your school.

Should you conduct the survey on your own or should you pay to have this done?

There are a number of free online survey vehicles out there. You can use Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, or you can even create a survey using Google Forms.  If you have the time and knowledge, you can pull together a decent survey.

But this DIY approach does have some drawbacks:

  • Parents are often leery of being completely honest if they think that their answers in some way can be tied back to them or their child. Even though you tell them it is anonymous, they may not believe you. You run the risk of getting watered down feedback.
  • If you are doing this for staff – they will never be honest since they feel that this is not anonymous, and it will impact their job if they voice a negative opinion.
  • Writing good questions is an art as well as a science. There is a skill in crafting questions that can get at the underlying issues. You might be able to get there eventually, but you will find that this is taking more time than you wanted to spend.
  • Analyzing survey results is another time-consuming task. Is this really where your time is best spent?

How long should your survey be?

If this is your first time running a survey, there might be a tendency to ask too many questions. Schools often take the “kitchen-sink” approach in their surveys because the answer is interesting, but not really one that is actionable.

Survey Monkey recently published some interesting data about survey completion. They looked at surveys ranging from 1-30 questions from 100,000 users. This research uncovered some interesting data.

Survey best practices

This chart shows that the higher number of questions, the smaller amount of time people are thinking about the answer.  Additionally, Survey Monkey found that the abandonment rate increased for longer surveys.  Surveys that were longer than 7 – 8 minutes saw their completion rates drop by 5 – 20%.

Generally, we have found that around 25 questions is a good sweet spot.

What should you ask?

This will vary by school, but the most important question to ask is the Net Promoter Score (NPS).  Net Promoter is a satisfaction question widely used by private companies and universities.  It is a simple question that was developed by researchers at Harvard.

It states, “On a scale of 0 – 10, how likely are you to recommend (your school) to a friend or colleague”.  To gain your NPS, you break your respondents into three groups.  Parents who scored you a 9 or 10 are your “promoters”.  7-8 are passives and 0 – 6 are “detractors”.  To get your score, take the percentage of promoters, subtract the percentage of detractors and throw out the passives.  Voila!  You have your NPS score.

Understanding how your NPS score compares against other schools is a bit tricky.  Is a score of 22 good or bad?  (Another potential reason to use an outside consultant), but Temkin Group publishes yearly statistics on industry NPS scores.  If you find that your score is similar to a cable company which generally scores around -11, you now understand that you have a challenge.

When should you conduct a school satisfaction survey?

Late winter is generally the best time to conduct a school survey.  I always tell clients that the sweet spot is between Christmas Break and Spring Break.  You want to give the new parents time to acclimate to the school and form an opinion, but you don’t want it to be too late when parents are thinking about summer and the next school year.

What should you do with the results?

Use the data for planning for improvements for next year, and to track how well you are hitting your satisfaction goals.  Be very careful if you chose to not release the results of the school survey to your parent base. I always advocate that transparency on results is best, but only if you are also telling parents what your plan is to address their critical feedback.

If you choose not to release the results, don’t be surprised if parents don’t answer your next survey, or assume that the reason why you didn’t release the results is because the results are bad.

I hope that this helps you to understand the value of a school survey and why you need to do them every year.  If you would like to talk to Bright Minds Marketing about conducting a survey for your school this year, please send an email to and we can design one for your school.

Thanks as always for reading!

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to or call us at 317-361-5255.

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