February 1, 2016; Omaha World-Herald

Omaha’s Catholic schools have a new twist on nonprofit volunteer and stakeholder outreach—engaging parents of current students as “ambassadors” to help recruit new students. The effort is necessary because student enrollment in archdiocese schools is down 13 percent since 1998, dropping from 22,080 to 19,277 in 2015. Five Omaha-area grade schools have closed in the last 10 years. Family tradition still brings in students, but more proactive recruiting is needed to stem these student losses and fill classrooms.

Parents receive training and materials that are either provided by the diocese’s “Awaken Greatness” campaign or generated at the school level. Their primary activities are to advertise their families’ participation and support for their schools through simple means like yard signs and talking to friends and neighbors. Some schools hold pancake breakfasts or similar events to attract community members, discuss misperceptions, highlight opportunities for tuition support, and distribute literature.

Tuition support is key, as many families are concerned about the $2,400 annual cost. Transfer students can receive support of up to one-half the full tuition cost, with most eligible families receiving a $1,000 discount the first year and a $500 discount the second year.

One Omaha Catholic school employee stated, “We have competition with the public schools.” This seems to cast a good reflection on the public schools as well as the Catholic schools, with neither claiming a distinct advantage in quality or outcomes. Money follows student enrollment in both public and private education, so schools are always trying to maximize enrollment figures in an effort to meet budgets as well as achieve their missions.

Omaha’s Catholic schools have successfully tapped into the passion for educational mission shared by many of the parents and families they serve. By turning that passion into meaningful action to expand outreach and strengthen their schools, the archdiocese is reinvigorating its operations while engaging potential new clients and stakeholders. Tuition support is important, but the parent ambassadors are a powerful method to carry the message.—Michael Wyland