Educators shouldn't assume that students will automatically attend school in their district. With Minnesota’s open enrollment policy, too many districts have a "Que sera, sera" -- what will be, will be -- attitude.
Educators, myself included, really haven’t sold education in the same way that business leaders and even politicians create a demand for their product or their politics. We aren’t even close. About the only time we really try to sell our schools is when we try to pass a referendum and then it is often too late.
College educators do much better selling their institutions. When was the last time you saw a billboard advertising a K-12 school? There are many billboards that say, “Come to St. Thomas or BSU or UND. We have what you are looking for.” Universities hire marketing and recruiting experts because they know when they lose students, they can’t operate.
Universities print up fancy brochures, pay for expensive advertising, use social media, send out recruiters, rely on alumni to spread the word, and a host of other strategies to bring in students. Why? More students means more money and more money means they can hire more staff to develop programs that bring in even more students. For colleges and universities, enrollment is a matter of life and death. How many K-12 schools have active alumni associations that contribute to the school?
In the United States we don’t sit up and take notice about something unless it demands we do so. The deaths of over 450,000 people demanded that we wear masks. The deaths of 450,000 people demanded that we get busy and find a vaccine. The deaths of 450,000 people demanded that we conduct our businesses, churches, youth groups, schools, athletic teams and virtually every aspect of our community in a different way. COVID-19 is a strain on everyone but we take notice because it is a matter of life or death.
We assume that in public education we will always have our desks occupied because kids are required to come to school. Even if we do have a drop-out epidemic in the United States, there still remain enough bodies to bring in the necessary revenue to keep the doors open. So, what if a few students drop out along the way? It’s not that big a deal. Really?
According to dosomething.org, every year more than 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States. That's a student every 26 seconds -- or 7,000 a day. About 25% of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time. In the U.S., high school dropouts commit about 75% of crimes, are less likely to vote, more likely to need public assistance, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to die at an earlier age.
These statistics may be off a few percentage points but they are more right than wrong. But, again, so what? This dropout epidemic has been going on for years and years. Who cares if a million students every year won’t have the same opportunities as their counterparts who completed school? Who cares if these million students are more likely to die earlier than the rest of the population?
What can schools do to create more of a demand for a K-12 education and ensure they have a population of students that bring in the dollars they need to function as well as raise the graduation rate to 100%?
Someone should be responsible for marketing and recruiting. It could be the superintendent, an administrative assistant or a secretary. Pay them a bit more and give them some specific marketing tasks to do. This is a win-win proposition. Even if they did just a little bit more than what is now being done, it would help. Recruiting one high school student is worth at least $10,000. In some districts, much more.
Identify what in your district makes it so unique and special. Shout these attributes from the top of your school so everyone knows. Make families believe that unless they send their kids to your school, the lives of their kids will not be complete.
Create programs that do not currently exist so 100% of our students find success. It is just unacceptable, an injustice, that in this area of northern Minnesota we do not have a school designed around the needs of our Native American students. Why not? Is it so difficult to sit down with a handful of parents, students and teachers to come up with some strategies that would provide Native students more opportunities to succeed in school? We have a Native American drop out rate of 50% in this area. Wake up! Do something. Why continue to perpetuate what has proven to be unsuccessful?
BSU is as equally to blame as our K-12 schools. The high drop out rate for Native students has existed for decades and decades. What are they doing to solve this epidemic? Isn’t it part of their mission to support the community? With all due respect, they can and should do much more. BSU could be a leader in helping K-12 Native students graduate not only in this area but in the nation. BSU needs to step up and get out front and lead.
So, I ask the question again. What are you doing to attract, gain and retain not only Native American students but all students who leave your district? The answer resides in creating, marketing and recruiting.
Educators have to realize that a district that graduates 100% of their students, is 100% effective. If they graduate 75% of their students, they are 75% effective. Most businesses would close at this rate. If they graduate anything less than 50% of their students, they need to seriously rethink and dramatically change what they are doing.
K-12 education is like politics. You can’t just accept things as they are, you have to sell your story. You have to create a demand for who you are and what you’re doing. If there is no demand, you suffer the consequences. Unfortunately our students are the ones who suffer most.
Riddle: What fruit can you never cheer up? (Answer: A blueberry.) Lots of kids who don't graduate sing the blues every year. We need to do more so they can sing a happier tune.
If we truly want to graduate 100% of our students, educators need to do a much better job of creating new programs, marketing these new programs and recruiting students who can benefit from them.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.