Keeping up interest, involvement in Catholic schools

COLUMBIA — The future of Catholic schools depends on spreading the word about the educational excellence they offer.  

That was the core message delivered by the keynote speaker at the Diocese of Charleston principals’ meeting held Aug. 6 at St. John Neumann School in Columbia. About 40 school representatives attended.  

Jay Gould is co-founder and partner with The Advancement Counsel in Boston, a consulting company that partners with Catholic schools, diocesan and religious organizations. According to the mission statement on its Web site, www.theadvancement, the company’s goal is to help advance Catholic education.

Gould spoke during the morning session about the concept of enrollment management, a system that allows Catholic school staff to come up with ways  to promote their facilities, increase enrollment and help the numbers hold steady over a long period of time.  

“Catholic schools are declining in many areas, and what we need is to be much more scientific and systematic in our approach to ensure the viability of our schools in the future,” Gould said. “The key is to take a proactive approach to the whole process.”

He said the Diocese of Charleston is in a better situation than some school systems he has worked with recently.

Increasing numbers of Catholics, especially on the coast, means an increased need for Catholic education, he said. This is the exact opposite of what is happening in many areas of the northeast and Midwest, where many parishes and schools are closing or combining because of declining population and enrollment.

“The Diocese of Charleston is fortunate because you’re approaching this issue from a position of strength,” Gould said.
“But you can never rest on your laurels,” he added. “You need to put in a system that helps to ensure enrollment strength in Catholic schools in South Carolina.”

Gould said the diocese should develop an overall initiative to promote its schools statewide, focusing on the core values they promote and the academic excellence they offer. After that is completed, he said, committees at each individual school should focus on their core values and how they fit in with the overall vision of the diocese.

He said the important thing to remember is that enrollment management is a long-term solution, focused on reaching out to families and keeping them interested and involved in Catholic schools before, during and after their children are enrolled.  

Another aspect of the program focuses on how to get the message out about Catholic schools to the community at large.

Gould will return to the diocese monthly during the fall to hold workshops for principals, board members and marketing committees about ways to clarify each school’s mission.  

“It’s an effort to increase enrollment in our Catholic schools by creating an awareness and an affinity for what we offer around the state,” said Sister Julia Hutchinson, superintendent of Catholic education for the diocese.  

“Jay’s group has developed enrollment management into a science, and they have strategies that will really key us into how to market these wonderful Catholic schools that are ours, but are also a well-kept secret in this state,” he said.

Sister Julia said enrollment management would be a two-tiered approach, involving both a diocesan marketing committee and committees at individual schools. Marketing plans include eventually erecting billboards in target markets to promote the excellence of diocesan schools, she said.  

“We want to make an effort at local schools to create a brand, and to build a relationship with the prospective student and family population,” she said.