Using Technology to Bridge the Value Gap in Private Schools

There’s a value gap in parents’ perceptions of independent schools. On one hand, parents are very satisfied with most aspects of their children’s experience at private schools. But, on the other hand, parents are significantly less satisfied with the value of their investment in their children’s education. Left unchecked, the experience-value divide will erode enrollment results. The good news is that technology has the potential to bridge the gap.  

All of this is brought to light in a survey of 1,000 independent parents conducted by Blackbaud in partnership with YouGov.      

Here’s the basis for the value gap. Parents were asked how satisfied they were with eleven different areas of their children’s experience including “ensuring family engagement in student learning,” “teaching the safe and effective use of digital tools” and “addressing the social and emotional needs of students.” The ratings were impressive, ranging from 81% to 89% of parents being either satisfied or very satisfied. However, when asked to express their satisfaction with the value they are getting from their investment in private school, the results were less impressive. 77% of parents were extremely or very satisfied but of those surveyed, only 38% were extremely satisfied. With tuition being what it is, schools should hope that more than four in ten parents are certain they are getting their money’s worth.  

The potential for technology as the bridge to that gap starts with the fact that it is already improving parent engagement. 63% of parents said that technology allowed them to be more engaged in their children’s day-to-day experience.  

In addition, the study identified various technology applications that are central to the parent experience but where satisfaction could be better. Improving schools’ performance in those areas of enrollment management could bring parents’ perceptions of value closer to their levels of satisfaction.  

Parent Portals

It’s no surprise that parents want easily accessible information about their children – test results, assignments, upcoming programs. In fact, parents identified a parent portal as the most important aspect of technology when selecting a K–12 school. In addition, almost half (49%) of parents said they want “immediate access to grades and progress on assignments,” while 43% of parents want weekly updates on academic progress. Together, that’s 92% of parents that want the type of information that practically can only be delivered through a parent portal. 

Yet, only 78% of parents say that their school offers a single online resource center (such as a parent portal) for all important information related to their child’s school. That establishes a dramatic gap between the 92% of parents looking for a parent portal and the 78% who are lucky enough to have one. Providing consolidated and easily accessible information to parents would go a long way to improving the perception of value. 

Parent Communication

When parents were asked how well their child’s school performs in keeping them involved and informed in various areas, the results were lacklustre. For six of the ten topics, less than half of parents felt their school was doing very well. Some of the areas are critical to the parent experience. For example, schools’ performance regarding “Updates on academic progress” and “Mental health and social emotional learning resources” was rated as very well by 48% and 47% of parents respectively. In addition, even the areas with the greatest number of parents providing a “very well” ranking don’t inspire confidence. You would hope that more than 56% of parents would feel that their kids’ school was doing very well in communicating regarding “emergency situations” or that “school health concerns” could top 55%. For parents, there is certainly value in feeling informed and involved – and technology is the ideal way to realize that. 

Enrollment Process

There’s no question that the enrollment and re-enrollment processes can be a major headache for parents. The accessibility of enrollment related tasks and the ease with which they can be completed can add to or detract from a parent’s perception of value.  

In the Blackbaud/YouGov study, parents were asked how easy or well-explained the enrollment process was. At first glance, the fact that 97% of parents felt that the process was either somewhat or very easy seems laudable. You could think similarly about the 96% of parents who felt the process was either somewhat or very well explained. However, only 61% of parents felt it was very well explained and only 63% of parents thought it was very easy to complete. That seems like a low bar for something that is so critical to parents. 

Interestingly, almost two-thirds (62%) of parents said they wanted to be able to complete more of the process online. An explanation for that may lie in the fact that just about three-quarters (76%) of parents reported their school had a single sign-on solution for “completing the enrollment process as well as submitting contracts and paying bills.” In 2022, having a dedicated digital enrollment solution seems like more of a must-have and a way to add value to the parent experience. 

Being satisfied with your child’s experience at school and being satisfied with the value of the investment you are making in your child’s education are two very different things. Clearly, the gap between experience and value will have impact on retention. Ideally schools would want the latter to be equal to the former. The Blackbaud/YouGov study highlights the stark divide between the two and clearly identifies technology as an important means of bridging the gap.  

For more results and insights regarding this study, read our full report.