There’s no denying that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on education. The pandemic has forced drastic changes upon students in grades as young as pre-K. When it comes to student enrollment numbers, rises in private school enrollment are particularly notable in response to the pandemic.

Why has COVID-19 led to increases in student enrollment at private schools? What else impacts student enrollment? Learn more about COVID-19’s impact on K-12 private school enrollment and what the future looks like for private schools post-pandemic.

Variables That Commonly Influence Student Enrollment

Every year, schools face changes in student enrollment. Numerous factors affect whether a school will see more or fewer students in the coming school year. As school administrators and faculty, you should know which variables impact student enrollment so you can build a plan around them:

  • Leadership: A school with strong leadership from directors, principals and other staff will likely see higher student enrollment numbers. If parents believe that the school’s leadership is unorganized or disengaged, they might think twice about enrolling their children since leadership concerns can impact faculty, which directly affects students.
  • Quality: A decline in quality, whether it be regarding the curriculum or activities, can significantly affect whether students return the following year. When parents don’t think your school offers their child a quality education, they’ll quickly look into other options. This point is especially important for private schools because they rely on tuition to fund their operations.
  • Competition: There will always be other education options. While many private school parents will keep their children in private school until college, others may choose to enroll their children in public schooling or homeschooling at some point. These situations can be difficult to predict. Still, by providing strong faculty and quality education, you can make your private school an appealing choice.
  • Staffing: Like leadership issues, staffing problems will impact how well students perform — and thus, whether their parents keep their children at your school. Concerns with teachers can significantly affect student enrollment numbers, though staff in departments can also influence enrollment.

These are just a few factors that can have short-term and long-term impacts on student enrollment in private schools.

COVID-19’s Effects on Student Enrollment

However, some factors that impact student enrollment are unexpected, and COVID-19 is one factor that has worked in favor of private schools. Between 2020 and 2021, 3% fewer children attended public schools in the United States. Many reasons account for this decline, including more parents moving to other districts, choosing to homeschool, delaying kindergarten and opting for private school.

Despite falls in student enrollment at the beginning of COVID-19, private schools have regained their footing. Of the 68 private schools surveyed by the CATO Institute, over 52% saw an increase in student enrollment, including in pre-K, between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. While numbers haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels, private schools have quickly become a better option in the eyes of many parents throughout the country.

The reasons why private schools have rebounded faster than public schools are straightforward. Compared to public schools, private schools usually offer smaller class sizes and larger campuses. Furthermore, students who attend private schools often have more autonomy. As a result, parents can ensure their children still attend in-person classes and participate in extracurricular activities without interruption.

While tuition is arguably the most significant burden to private schooling, financial aid has increased in the past two school years to help accommodate more students. This trend means more parents can afford to think about options other than public school for the first time. Some states have recently put more funding toward scholarships for private schools, helping make private schools more popular than ever.

Will COVID-19 Permanently Change Student Enrollment?

COVID-19 has had an unpredictable impact on private school enrollment. While numbers may be increasing now, it’s difficult to predict where the world be in the next few years regarding the pandemic. Throughout the country, both public and private schools have differed in their approaches to COVID-19. This sentiment will likely continue.

According to the most recent available data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 5.7 million U.S. students are enrolled in private schools. These numbers have risen over the past two years, making it clear that private schools offer certain advantages over public schools, and those benefits stood out during the pandemic. As of 2020, around 41% of parents surveyed by EdChoice said they’re more likely to pursue private school post-pandemic.

Ultimately, COVID-19’s impact on private school enrollment is still uncertain. Though student enrollment has increased, many more children still attend public schools — and their families have no plans to switch despite the pandemic. Therefore, private school enrollment may slowly rise as time passes, but private school leaders still need to make an effort to recruit new students.

How to Overcome Student Enrollment Challenges

The most significant takeaway here is that all types of schools must build connections with parents and students. Keep in mind that many families are choosing private schooling because it’s more personal — smaller class sizes mean more individualized in-person attention, which public schools lack in the COVID-19 era. By making the ability to connect with students one of your school’s main selling points, you can help increase enrollment rates in the coming years.

In addition to fostering connections, private schools must be ready to adapt to the latest trends in education. COVID-19 has made technology in the classroom more popular than ever — and it’s likely here to stay. By staying on top of innovations and anticipating how faculty and students use technology, private schools can continue to stand out against public schools. If your school utilizes the best parts of in-person and online instruction, parents may see you as the best option.

Overall, student enrollment in private schools is on the upswing. Capitalizing on the rising numbers through investments in building connections and improving teaching methods could help your private school persevere through unforeseeable variables beyond COVID-19.

Contact TADS to Upgrade Your School’s Management Capabilities

If you need help keeping up with increased enrollment at your private school, your administration should consider comprehensive software to manage admissions and tuition. TADS can help. Through the full-service, cloud-based TADS solution, your staff can better manage the various tasks that keep your school running.

Request a demo from us today to learn more about what TADS can offer your school.

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