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Mel Gravely

Concerns and Strategies on Attaining Full Enrollment

head start full enrollment erseaIt’s been two months since the Office of Head Start announced the full enrollment initiative, detailing its plans to reach a goal of 100% enrollment nationally throughout the program.

Since then, it’s been top of mind for everyone attending our on-site trainings and conference workshops. We’d like to share some of the concerns we’re hearing out in the field, as well as some of the solutions from long-time early childhood educators.

On The Gravely Group’s 9,000+ member LinkedIn group, we received several comments almost immediately when we first posted about the full enrollment initiative. One participant, Fran Simon, a consultant in the education field, began the conversation almost immediately by stating, “I have SO many questions.”

In her first question, she wrote, “How much support (training, TA, coaching) do all Head Start programs receive on marketing to parents in their communities?”

A fellow contributor to the group, Barbara Coatney, Adjunct Professor of Special Education, School Administration, & Curriculum at University of South Carolina at Chapel Hill, chimed in.

“My answer as a person with more than ten years experience in Head Start, staff do not get marketing training. It is very hard to keep 100% enrollment due to mobility of parents, other comparators such as the school system and parents who refuse to send the children. Training in this area is a good idea.”

Next, Simon asked, “Do they have the money to execute these techniques, and how much does OHS invest in nationwide marketing to prospective parents to support local agencies?”

Sonia Mercado, Director of Social Services at New Life Child Development Center, Inc, responded.

“These are interesting questions. Head Start offers a large budget, which includes a portion of the budget to be allocated for advertisement. Each agency is responsible to do its due diligence and engage in some sort of marketing. In addition, the Head Start Office provides free literature that agencies can obtain for their recruitment. Furthermore, those agencies that are struggling with enrollment due to lack of marketing training should utilize the designated funding to train their personnel in this area. There are several organizations out there that offer great trainings on how to recruit families to increase and maintain its enrollment capacity.”

After that, Simon goes on to express her concerns that with so many different types of programs out there, its difficult for Head Start to cut through the clutter.

“I’ve personally spoken to eligible parents who have heard of Head Start, but had no idea their children were eligible and that is was free. I have been shocked every time. There are so many terms used to describe early care and education in the US, many parents think they all mean the same thing.”

This was a sentiment shared by many in the Head Start community. With state Department of Education offering programs for 3 and 4 year olds in partnership with local school systems, many parents naturally gravitate directly to their community school in search of education opportunities for their young children.

So what many Head Start professionals might be asking is… now what? Luckily, with a national community as large and strong as Head Start, information to help programs through this process is already being put together. In addition to Head Start at the national and regional level, long-time staff, consultants, and teachers are already communicating with each other and compiling their resources to help each other reach full enrollment.

As one example, EdWeek recently posted an article on how CAP Tulsa used data to deal with the problem of no shows. We won’t go into the detail of the article for the purposes of this blog, but it’s a great case study on how collecting and using data is an important part of the selection and enrollment process. We recommend reading it.

In another, the National Center on Program Management and Fiscal Operations have a quick tip sheet called ERSEA: Maintaining Full Enrollment. In it, it talks about the goal of ERSEA, planning and monitoring for success, and maintaining the course. It’s a short read and a great introduction pi.

There is already a lot of information out there. What this initiative requires more than anything is an individual or group of individuals in your program to champion the cause, develop a process, and make the best practices and principles of ERSEA a daily priority. Sometimes that means that they need to put themselves out there — not just sit behind a desk, but get out into the community to attend events, shake hands, and make connections.

LinkedIn member, Germaine Davis, talked about this when she gave her first-hand experience as an Enrollment and Recruitment Coordinator in California.

“I found that networking with community agencies to implement recruitment plans was very helpful. Also our program focused on short term and long term goals for meeting the benchmark of 100 percent of enrollment, (i.e. – creating a ERSEA Committee with parents/staff/community members, enrollment clinics throughout the city, enrollment on the spot where the waiting list could not be utilized to fill vacant slots, connecting with homeless shelters/transitional housing programs, relying on parents to recruit and offer incentives, and looking at the Priority Rating Scale to ensure that our priority criteria points actually met community needs.) Recruitment was everyone’s job.”

We couldn’t agree more!

We want to hear more of your thoughts! What are some of the strategies for recruitment and enrollment that have worked in your program? Leave your comments below!

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