How Research and Data Helped SDA Schools Shift from Loss to Growth

Posted on July 18, 2019

Flagging enrolments spurred this Sydney school network to ask: how can we better serve our communities? For Sydney Adventist Schools, the answer lay in the data.

Find out how they worked with Social Impact Institute for a demographic and strategic analysis and development of a comprehensive data-led marketing strategy.

Flagging enrolment fuels financial instability and school closures

Across Greater Sydney, there are six Seventh-Day Adventist Schools, with a current enrolment of over 2,600 students in K-12 with an additional 300 children in associated pre-school classes.

“Our schools are very sustainable and growing well now, but when I first came into this position they were struggling financially,” says Dr Jean Carter, who has been the Executive Director for Sydney Adventist Schools since 2010.

“We had to make some tough decisions about closing a school and an early learning centre as we were losing so much money as a system. We needed solid data to make sure those decisions were the right ones,” Dr Carter explained.

Understanding the problem with a data-backed approach

Dr Carter first engaged the Social Impact Institute (Social Impact Institute) in 2011 to develop a demographic study: a data-driven breakdown of the socio-economic factors influencing students and their families.

The study showed that local demographic factors drive differences in what families look for in a school, and that the value proposition offered by each Adventist campus was not always attuned to the needs of the communities in which they’re based.

The demographic study pressed Adventist Schools to re-think their value proposition for each facility, often resulting in a change of messaging and marketing strategy to better align each school with its target community. The findings from the study also assisted the company to revise their staffing needs and put in place stronger financial processes for future success.

Dr Carter explained that data-based decisions “are part of the DNA” for schools. “We’re constantly tracking data to assess student performance,” she said. “Data informs all of our major decisions, and without it you often don’t get the whole picture.”

Adventist Schools engaged Social Impact Institute to help reposition the schools and to develop and refine its marketing strategy.

“Along with a demographic study, we had an environmental scan done, to discover what other schools in the area were offering and how they were attracting enrolments,” said Dr Carter.

“In some cases, we used this information to guide a complete fee restructure, and to inform decisions about closing facilities.”

A proven solution for future success

Having data insights has helped the Adventist Schools take a more nuanced approach to problem solving, she said – and it has made a big difference to the school’s community.

“At one school our enrolments were shrinking, we had over 50% bad debt and the school was in bad shape financially,” she said.

“Applying the information from the demographic data and the environmental scan, we saw that the community’s capacity to pay the fees was just not there. We changed the way we do things and better aligned our offerings and fees to community demands - and we now have over 600 students enrolled, bad debt has dropped below 10% and the whole school has turned around.”

Social Impact Institute also helped Adventist Schools develop their marketing strategy to align with their growth plans eight years ago and Dr Carter said the results have been excellent.

“While making the company more sustainable, we've also been able to reach a lot more students and families who may otherwise not have benefitted from what we have on offer,” she said.

“Over the last six years our enrolments have nearly doubled, from 1,400 students to 2,600. We’ve had around 10% growth year on year,” she said.

Every few years, Adventist Schools have another demographic study done, then use that data and the marketing data to check what's working and guide the next steps.

“The more we've trusted the data and followed that, the more sustainable we've become and confident in the decisions we’ve made.”

Would you like to know more about how our data-led strategies can help improve your organisation’s business outcomes? Contact us today to start the conversation.

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