A SWOT Analysis for Healthy Enrollment

If you’ve been in school world long enough, you’ve likely sat around a conference room table and contributed to a SWOT analysis. For the uninitiated, SWOT is an exercise used in strategic planning that helps leaders take stock of an organization’s current situation; it surfaces Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s usually conveyed in a 2x2 grid that looks like this:





The first two indicators, Strengths and Weaknesses, are variables within the school’s control. The second two indicators, Opportunities and Threats, are dynamics outside the school’s control. A thoughtful SWOT Analysis can align teams around where to focus, what to fix, and what to watch out for. 

While SWOT is typically deployed in the strategic planning process, it can also be enlightening for Leadership and Advancement to evaluate their school’s enrollment health through this lens. The SWOT analysis would be framed around this question: “In our pursuit of Healthy Enrollment, what are our school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Note that the focus here is healthy, not full; this is an important distinction. Enrollment can be full but not healthy; it can also be healthy but not full. 

To get you started, I have developed a SWOT analysis of what we see across Christian schools in the post-COVID era. This assessment is based on numerous conversations with clients, prospects, industry practitioners, association leaders, the trends in the broader trade press, and, admittedly, my vantage point as a marketing consultant to faith-based schools across the US. 

Some of these observations will feel familiar, and others may seem completely unrelatable — and that’s okay. My aims are to broaden your awareness, challenge your thinking, and prompt your team to have meaningful conversations that move your school toward healthy enrollment.

Ready? Let’s dig in!

The question: In their pursuit of Healthy Enrollment, what are some common strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for Christian schools in this season?


  • Full or nearly full enrollment: For various reasons, many Christian schools are experiencing all-time highs in enrollment with waitlists in multiple grades. Growth prompts conversations that weren’t even on the radar a few years ago.
  • Financial strength: With increasing enrollment comes a stronger balance sheet. Yes, budgets may be tight due to increased operational overhead, but many Christian schools are paying down debt, addressing deferred maintenance, investing in facilities, and building a war chest.
  • New faces, new energy: Riding the wave of increasing enrollment is invigorating and exciting. New families have joined your ranks, and some of these kids are quite talented. Parents are buying into your vision, and they’re eager to pitch in. We had no idea what we were missing! How can we help?”
  • Battle-tested leadership: Boards, Heads of School, and Divisional Principals came together during a season of unprecedented turbulence and uncertainty. They navigated complex situations and emerged stronger. They’re delighted to be working on strategic issues rather than firefighting.
  • Expanded network: During COVID, Heads of School, faculty, and staff connected with other school leaders going through similar issues. They leaned more on associations for help and guidance. Relationships forged during a season of struggle serve them well as they navigate emerging complexities.
  • Back to normal: Faculty and staff who shouldered heavy loads during COVID are in a better head space. They’ve caught their breath, got back into their rhythms, and are ready to re-engage in strategic conversations and initiatives. 


  • Space constraints: Many schools experiencing increased demand have maxed out their facilities. Land prices and interest rates are high, leaving many school leaders scrambling to find creative ways to expand their capacity.
  • Shifting culture: The growth has been exciting, but it’s also been fast. There are lots of new students, faculty, and staff. The old guard, at first delighted by the influx of interest in the school they’ve loved for so long and so well, is now bemoaning the loss of the “good old days” as they sense a shift in the culture.
  • Lack of internal clarity: Some schools are discovering they don’t have a well-defined value proposition, which makes it difficult to differentiate themselves from nearby alternatives. They have not articulated their “Way” of educating a student. In some cases, leaders sense they need to rework aspects of their mission, vision, and core values. 
  • Lack of a rubric for assessing right-fit families: “What is our definition of a right-fit family? And how do we apply this definition to prospective families?” Many Christian schools have not thought deeply about these questions, resulting in a significant percentage of enrolled families who haven’t bought into the school’s approach.
  • Softening retention: For some, retention is becoming a problem, dropping below the 90%+ target in some Ages-and-Stage™. Families who ran from something rather than to something are now returning to public or homeschooling. These families hung out in the airport lounge until the plane was fixed. And now, they’re on their way back home.
  • Disparate classrooms: The influx of new families ushered in some kids with significant gaps in their academic readiness. Many teachers feel like they’re teaching two or three sections in one classroom. 
  • Small-school mentality: Some schools that have grown rapidly over the past few years — largely due to market forces — are still thinking small. They have a cost mindset rather than an investment mindset. They spend little to nothing on marketing, undervalue their school’s curb appeal, and underpay their staff. It’s time to level up.
  • Wrong-fit families: It’s hard to tell an interested family that the fit isn’t right. But the consequences of compromise are even more painful. It’s a pick-your-pain scenario. Leaders who realize they have misaligned families in the house but hesitate to deal with it are just kicking the can down the road. These families are not bad people; it’s like wearing shoes that are a better fit for someone else.
  • Underpricing their value: Some Christian schools aren’t charging enough for the value they deliver. They are a bargain; I don’t mean that as a compliment. They may see an increase in enrollment, but they won’t make better margins on volume. Tuition increases are painful but may be necessary to increase program quality, attract and retain talented faculty and staff, and fund strategic initiatives. 


  • School choice legislation: An increasing number of states are passing legislation that funds students, not public school systems. Some Christian schools have taken advantage of these programs, while others stay tuned as policy moves toward a vote. Voucher programs and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) could yield many new students for Christian schools that embrace this emerging opportunity.
  • Increased demand: Many families are concluding it’s time to switch. They’re looking for something different, something better, and they’re willing to pay for it. 
  • Campus expansion: Turning away a right-fit family is painful due to a lack of space. Many Christian schools are poised to grow; they just need more space. Some are partnering with local churches, others are well into capital campaigns, and others are bringing in modulars to buy some time. Some are even leasing space in industrial parks and shopping centers.
  • Brand awareness: We’re full, so why do we need marketing?I appreciate the question, but it’s always a good time to tell your story to right-fit families. Families want to know that other families hold your school in high regard. Just because you’re full or nearly full doesn’t mean you can pull back on marketing. You will need new applicants next year, the following year, and every year for as long as your school keeps its doors open. 
  • Internal marketing: Encourage retention by promoting the next Age-and-Stage®. You can’t assume that families will just move to the next grade. They have options. They are still your customers; the revenue and missional impact are yours to lose. 
  • Management infrastructure: Many Christian schools would do well to evaluate their management approach. It might sound like corporate-speak, but growing enterprises often struggle to maintain their culture. This can be due in part to management systems that aren’t designed to scale. Faculty and staff need to be engaged, heard, cultivated, and accountable. 
  • Artificial intelligence: AI will be a major disruptor in academia. Clearly, its powers can be used for evil (e.g., cheating on classroom assignments), but it also holds great promise for school leaders, marketers, admissions, development, and teachers. AI can be a force multiplier for developing strategy, creating frameworks, developing rubrics, and mapping project plans. If you haven’t tried these tools yet, check out ChatGPT, Google Bard, or Perplexity


  • Financial volatility: According to ITR Economics, the US economy will experience a slight recession in 2024, followed by a major depression in 2030. Schools that take on significant debt to fund expansion may be in trouble in a few years if the economy bottoms out and families retreat to public schools.
  • Voucher bait-and-switch: The school choice legislation that looks so enticing now may sour for some private schools if the political landscape changes and politicians attach strings to state and federal funding. Schools with high dependency on voucher dollars need to have a fallback plan should the rules change.
  • Faculty and staff shortages: Adding more students usually means adding more faculty and staff. Some schools have struggled to attract and retain talented staff. Further complicating matters, corporate America is hungry for talent; weary, underpaid faculty and staff at Christian schools can be interesting targets for headhunters.
  • Virtual and augmented reality: This one may sound futuristic, but Apple’s big bet on virtual reality will create new possibilities for distance learning. VR and AR will go way beyond just watching videos or streaming a lecture. These technologies will be immersive in ways we’ve never seen. As prices of this technology fall, enterprising curriculum developers will go here next.

Implications for Your Christian School

I encourage you to huddle up with your Leadership and Advancement Team and use this Healthy Enrollment SWOT as a starting point. Frame the exercise this way:

In our pursuit of Healthy Enrollment, what are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in this season?

  1. Strengths: What are we doing well? How are we leveraging our core competencies in pursuit of healthy enrollment?

  2. Weaknesses: What are we doing that we should stop doing? Where are we trying too hard? What is not bearing fruit?

  3. Opportunities: Where can we invest? What should we evaluate? What risks should we take?

  4. Threats: What could take us off guard? Where are we overexposed? What moves should we make to decrease our exposure?

Push for healthy debate. Deal with real issues. Acknowledge widening gaps. Celebrate big wins. And, in this remarkable season of opportunity, commit to strategies that drive long-term enrollment health.


Andy Lynch

 Andy started North Star Marketing in 2000, converting a corner of his parents’ basement into a makeshift office. The idea was simple: help organizations connect more effectively with qualified customers. Not much has changed since then. Yes, North Star has a few more people (who do not work from Andy’s parents’ basement), and the range of services has evolved substantially, but the “big idea” is still the same: to use our God-given creative talents to provide Marketing Leadership that creates value for our team, our clients, and our partners. Within the firm, Andy shapes the vision and strategy, advises on client engagements, and supports the team through coaching. In client-facing scenarios, Andy thrives in leading Message Workshops and meddling in strategy. Andy is also the Founder of Via, a web-based software platform that empowers marketing firms to develop and deploy strategy for their clients. When not tending to "work stuff,” Andy is usually hanging out with his remarkable wife and way-above-average kiddos...or cheering for Liverpool FC.
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