Grandparents Are Influencers
School leaders who choose to ignore grandparents in their marketing, admissions, and retention and development efforts do it at their peril.
I recently reviewed two studies that reported on trends in independent school inquiries and admissions, one by the Enrollment Management Association and one by the National Association of Independent Schools. The studies cited affordability as the number one reason that parents had concerns about choosing an independent school for their child with 62% expressing concern over the cost of an independent school. At the same time, 25% of parents said that they would be comfortable asking the child's grandparents to help pay for tuition. With the recent changes in the 529 laws in most states, there are more opportunities for grandparents to help pay for K-12 independent school tuition. Though the tax incentive to transfer wealth to the next generation may wane with new estate tax laws, I do not believe that tax benefits are the sole incentive for grandparents to help their children with tuition for grandchildren.
In the last ten years, I have seen an increase in grandparents sharing parenting responsibilities to help their working children. They drop off grandchildren at school, pick them up, wait for them during tutoring/sports/dance, and volunteer at the school with regularity. This year, I know that several prospective parents shyly asked admissions directors in the Baltimore area if they might bring their parents to an open house or admissions event.
But, why do parents need to feel shy about that? Let's invite grandparents into the process. Connected millennial parents frequently confer with their parents on any number of topics. Why would we expect them to exclude their parents from one of the biggest and potentially most costly decisions they will make for their child?
Consider dedicating an admissions event to grandparents. Be bold about encouraging grandparents to join their children and grandchildren at your school. Some will not take you up on it, and others will be relieved and grateful.
For those grandparents who were not part of the admissions process, be sure to pay particular attention to the occasions that your school invites grandparents to campus. Grandparents are influencers in many ways, and parents want their parents to approve, or at least see the value, in the school they have chosen. I have seen students withdrawn from a school after grandparents attended a visiting day. I have seen major gifts arrive, or conversations start about significant support after a special event on campus. I have seen parents fall in love with the school all over again after their parents raved about the outstanding experience they had that day. The opinions of grandparents represent a critical marketing opportunity and retention effort. Give grandparents the attention they deserve.