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Enrollment Trends in International Schools

By Courtney Lowe
11-May-22
Enrollment Trends in International Schools


This survey was conducted by the author in April of 2022 through the PTCNet, an email forum open to principals, curriculum directors, and other school leaders in PTC member schools, and represents the responses from 59 international schools. 

School Structure Impacts on Reported Data

Schools within the sample define their elementary, middle, and secondary schools by different grade levels; however, trends are still visible, and most schools define it as six through eight.

Grade Levels in Middle School

Count

5-7

1

5-8

8

6-8

37

6-9

4

6-10

3

7-8

1

7-9

2

7-11

1

No such designation

2

Schools reported on their ballpark enrollment changes in elementary, middle, and secondary school over the last six years.

Enrollment Changes: Elementary School

Region

Decreased

Increased

Remained Roughly Unchanged

Grand Total

Africa

4

5

 

9

Central / East Asia

3

1

2

6

Europe

10

5

5

20

Latin America / Caribbean

4

5

2

11

Mainland China

2

 

 

2

Middle East

1

1

 

2

North America

 

1

 

1

South / Southeast Asia

4

4

 

8

Grand Total

28

22

9

59

NB: In every region, those schools that indicated they were newly founded in the last six years have shown an increase in Elementary School enrollment. This is one school in Central / East Asia and Europe and two schools in South / Southeast Asia. Read the data from the table above accordingly.

In each Region the balance of Elementary School enrollment picture can be summarized in the table below. Bear in mind, some regions have very few or only one responding school.

Region

Decreased

Increased

Unchanged

Africa

44%

56%

0%

Central / East Asia

50%

17%

33%

Europe

50%

25%

25%

Latin America / Caribbean

30%

50%

20%

Mainland China

100%

0%

0%

Middle East

50%

50%

0%

North America

0%

100%

0%

South / Southeast Asia

50%

50%

0%

Schools that reported a decrease in Elementary School enrollment showed median decrease rates as follows:

Region

Median Percentage Decrease

Notes

Africa

17.5

Min 3, Max 30

Central/East Asia

12.5

Only 2 Schools, 10 & 15

Europe

17.5

Min 5, Max 40

Latin America / Caribbean

17

Min 8, Max 33

Mainland China

15.5

Only 2 Schools, 10 & 21

Middle East

5

Only 1 school

South / Southeast Asia

37.5

Min 15, Max 60

Of the schools reporting decreased Elementary School enrollment, 19 reported this decrease has accelerated during the time of COVID, four reported the decrease has decelerated, three reported a reversal in the decrease (was decreasing, now increasing, though overall decreased), and two did not know about this relationship.

Schools that reported an increase in Elementary School enrollment showed median increase rates as follows:

Region

Median Percentage Increase

Notes

Africa

20

Min 10, Max 50

Central/East Asia

60

1 school, new

Europe

15

Min 4.25, Max 30

Latin America / Caribbean

7.5

Min 2, Max 20

Middle East

225

Only 1 school

North America

5

Only 1 school

South / Southeast Asia

9

Min 3, Max 20

Of the schools reporting increases, 13 reported a perceived acceleration in the increase rate during the period of COVID, six reported slower growth (notably, four of the six in South / Southeast Asia), two reported a reversal in growth, and one did not know if growth accelerated or decelerated during this time.

Enrollment Changes: Middle School

Region

Decreased

Increased

Remained Roughly Unchanged

Grand Total

Africa

3

6

 

9

Central / East Asia

2

2

2

6

Europe

3

11

6

20

Latin America / Caribbean

4

4

3

11

Mainland China

1

1

 

2

Middle East

 

2

 

2

North America

 

1

 

1

South / Southeast Asia

2

2

4

8

Grand Total

15

29

15

59

NB: Once again, most newly founded schools showed an increase in middle school, with the exception of one in South / Southeast Asia, which showed unchanged enrollment in Middle School.

Region

Decreased

Increased

Unchanged

Africa

33%

67%

0%

Central / East Asia

33%

33%

33%

Europe

15%

55%

30%

Latin America / Caribbean

36%

36%

27%

Mainland China

50%

50%

0%

Middle East

0%

100%

0%

North America

0%

100%

0%

South / Southeast Asia

25%

25%

50%

























Schools that reported a decrease in Middle School enrollment showed median decrease rates as follows:


Region

Median Percentage Decrease

Notes

Africa

10

Min 5, Max 25

Central/East Asia

12

Only 2 schools 10 & 14

Europe

6

Min 1, Max 20

Latin America / Caribbean

30

Min 10, Max 40

Mainland China

5

Only 1 School

South / Southeast Asia

20

Only 2 schools 10 & 30

Of the schools reporting decreased Middle School enrollment, 10 reported this decrease has accelerated during the time of COVID, four reported the decrease has decelerated, zero reported a reversal in the decrease (was decreasing, now increasing, though overall decreased), and one did not know about this relationship.

Schools that reported an increase in Middle School enrollment showed median increase rates as follows:

Region

Median Percentage Increase

Notes

Africa

17.5

Min 5, Max 50

Central/East Asia

10

Only 1 school

Europe

10

Min 2, Max 30

Latin America / Caribbean

10

Min 5, Max 15

Mainland China

5

Only 1 School

Middle East

28.5

Only 2 schools 7 &50

North America

5

Only 1 school

South / Southeast Asia

60

Only 2 schools 20 & 100

Of the schools reporting increases, 19 reported a perceived acceleration in the increase rate during the period of COVID, nine reported slower growth, and one did not know if growth accelerated or decelerated during this time.

Enrollment Changes: Secondary School

Row Labels

Decreased

Increased

Remained Roughly Unchanged

Grand Total

Africa

4

5

 

9

Central / East Asia

1

3

2

6

Europe

 

18

2

20

Latin America / Caribbean

3

4

4

11

Mainland China

1

1

 

2

Middle East

 

2

 

2

North America

 

 

1

1

South / Southeast Asia

3

4

1

8

Grand Total

12

37

10

59

NB: In Secondary School, all newly founded schools showed an increase. This is one school each in Central / East Asia and Europe, and two schools in South / Southeast Asia.

Region

Decreased

Increased

Unchanged

Africa

44%

56%

0%

Central / East Asia

17%

50%

33%

Europe

0%

90%

10%

Latin America / Caribbean

27%

36%

36%

Mainland China

50%

50%

0%

Middle East

0%

100%

0%

North America

0%

0%

100%

South / Southeast Asia

38%

50%

13%

Schools that reported a decrease in Secondary School enrollment showed median decrease rates as follows:

Region

Median Percentage Decrease

Notes

Africa

15

Min 5, Max 25

Central/East Asia

15

Only 1 School

Latin America / Caribbean

15

Min 10, Max 45

Mainland China

15

Only 1 School

South / Southeast Asia

15.2

Min 10, Max 40

Of the schools reporting decreased Secondary School enrollment, eight reported this decrease has accelerated during the time of COVID, three reported the decrease has decelerated, and one did not know about this relationship.

Schools that reported an increase in Secondary School, enrollment showed median increase rates as follows:

Region

Median Percentage Increase

Notes

Africa

27.5

Min 10, Max 40

Central/East Asia

8

Min 5, Max 10

Europe

10

Min 3, Max 40

Latin America / Caribbean

5

Min 2, Max 20

Mainland China

10

Only 1 School

Middle East

30

Only 2 Schools 10 & 50

South / Southeast Asia

10

Min 4, Max 100

Of the schools reporting increases, 23 reported a perceived acceleration in the increase rate during the period of COVID, 11 reported slower growth, and three did not know if growth accelerated or decelerated during this time.

Discussion / Summary

Overall, these results show a clear difference in enrollment trends in elementary schools versus middle and secondary schools. Over the last six years, more schools in this sample have experienced decreases in elementary schools than in middle and secondary schools. Newly founded schools account for 18% of schools reporting growth. Furthermore, there are some visible differences between regions and the decrease or growth they are experiencing.

There is a striking difference visible in the middle and secondary school data sets. Regardless of the fact the grade levels included in these designations vary across schools, it is clear at a glance that middle and secondary schools are experiencing growth in more regions than elementary schools are experiencing.

There is no clear pattern to be seen for the possible impact of COVID on these numbers, but it is worth noting that the relative increase in secondary school enrollments seems to correlate with COVID timing. 

There were some interesting and helpful e-mail conversations precipitated by this survey. Comments ranged from “I think we may be seeing a fundamental shift in the world of international schools as we have known it” to a well-argued theory that schools in regions that offer less expensive, attractive, and perhaps more culturally familiar local options to international schools may well see a slower rebound from COVID (if at all) than schools in regions in which the local schools do not offer comparable or familiar options. I can see an interesting research project here, perhaps even including cultural distance as a variable.

Reductions

Schools responded to a question about whether they have had to make reductions in the workforce during the COVID years as a result of changes in enrollment. The answers were as follows:

Region

No

Yes--through attrition and non-renewals

Yes--through staff attrition only

Grand Total

Africa

4

4

1

9

Central / East Asia

3

 

3

6

Europe

11

6

3

20

Latin America / Caribbean

7

3

1

11

Mainland China

1

 

1

2

Middle East

1

 

1

2

North America

1

 

 

1

South / Southeast Asia

3

4

1

8

Grand Total

31

17

11

59

Roughly half of the schools that responded have made some staff cuts during the COVID years, either solely through attrition or through attrition and non-renewals. When the newly founded schools are filtered out, the results actually become exactly 50% of schools have and have not made reductions.

Activities to Bolster Enrollments

Finally, an open-ended question asked schools to reflect on activities they have undertaken to try to bolster enrollments in the current environment. The responses, unfiltered other than deleting blank answers and answers of “None,” are displayed below:

Offered high-quality at a distance learning, increased options in High School, broadened traditional learning opportunities, complete review of the understanding of time as a resource rather than a structure, particularly in our Wednesday student experiences

Because our school has been open to in-person learning through the COVID, we are guessing this is why we have an increase of students.  We are also the only not-for-profit school in Tunis, and we invest our spending in excellent teachers, which is why we are the school of choice. 

Advertising in the area - my current problem is that my building is almost at full capacity. I need more building space to continue growing.

Having mostly in-person learning on campus/keep after school activities open

Improving programs, accountability for curriculum, adding spaces.

We have invested in marketing and have added gymnasium and outdoor classroom spaces to make our campus more attractive. Now, we're investing in a new teaching and learning role - all are huge steps for our small school. 

New website, more online open days, increased marketing activity in general

Targeted marketing including online open house events and panels, revitalized website, etc.

Our new much more agile, modern, and easy to navigate website and additional virtual campus tours has been very helpful in making our school much more accessible.

During the pandemic, the school moved forward with its strategic plans to continue to improve our school: academic programs and staffing, professional development, facilities, and staff compensation. By continuing to fund and invest in these areas, our academic results continued to improve while other schools stagnated due to short-term cutbacks.  The lesson learned was to keep a focused eye on the future rather than placate some short-term demands that would compromise the school's future.  It was not easy during the pandemic confinement period, but the school is reaping the benefits of its thoughtful and future-oriented decisions now and is in the best market position in its 42-year history.  

Virtual Open Days, Learn with a Friend Days (taster days), Social Media campaigns (come learn with us), ¨Anchor family¨ coffees at restaurants in key markets we are trying to penetrate, special ¨entry¨ discounts aimed at attracting ¨switcher¨ families

We are launching a new Dual Language Programme in our Junior Primary

Marketing to younger families, strategically looking at some new market that have lower tuition supports

Increased promotion via social media, local newspapers.

We have been okay. We focus on referrals.

Personable advertising, Social media, School videos

Focused on different tuition schemes in early years program through kindergarten. We found once on campus families stay.

Employed a very talented communications and marketing team.

Nothing, they are coming back on their own with the return of face-to-face instruction.

More marketing and admission events

Reducing non-urgent opex and capex budget items.

Regular tours (including virtual), focus on branding, high quality teaching and learning

Online marketing, virtual tours

New marketing strategy. Expanding our reach beyond the corporate oil companies.

Larger marketing budget, more marketing/admissions staff, scholarship program to boost numbers in certain grade levels, greater discounts to families with needs.

Our reduction is directly related to the impact of COVID on our expatriate community. Since our low point of enrolment in August 2020 (600 students), we have been steadily increasing and hope to reach our pre-pandemic enrolment level at some point in the next year.

New focus on marketing; attempting to tap into local market

Mostly just keep focusing on a broad, high-quality offering and making sure we publicize it. We've introduced a IBCP pathway which is already proving successful in attracting enrolment into the older school years. We're considering introducing a small number of means-tested bursaries for Elementary, where our offering looks expensive compared with other schools locally. We've visibly addressed a few areas that were causing some concern to parents (e.g. perception of poor behavior among middle-schoolers).

Continued, targeted marketing as well as very high-touch admissions process

Opened a second primary campus in the center of (city)and started an aggressive marketing campaign

Introduced After School Care program, target marketing to Elementary / Lower School

Pricing strategy review, marketing strategy review

Voluntary retirement or Voluntary resignation packages

Hiring of new admissions director

Focused efforts to market the school to targeted groups of potential students/families

Lowered tuition

Focusing marketing more on local market compared to overseas market.

Discounts, staggered payments, scholarships, increased aggressive marketing

Froze salaries for one-year, paid a % of salary in local currency, allowed parents to pay in up to 6 installments (normally parents pay in only 2 installments), waived late penalty fees for one year

The school reduced fees by 30% in 2019 prior to Covid-19 to increase enrollment from the local community in Freetown.  This led to our increase in enrollment which has now stalled and seems to be edging downwards.

Digital advertising

Increase marketing

Online Open Days (well attended!), advertising in local community, new program offerings

Targeted marketing campaign

Increased advertising

Lobbying the government to open borders

Increased EAL student body

None, except offering the regular level of high-quality instruction. Preserving reputation.

Many thanks to the schools that participated. Good luck to everyone in these trying times. Bear in mind that these questions were posed two days before the invasion of Ukraine was launched.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Courtney Lowe is the Director of the American School of The Hague. 




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