The Secret to High Enrollment

I happened to have a conversation yesterday with the art department chairperson at the high school in my district with the highest art enrollment. What luck for all of us that she shared what she believes are the two most significant factors that impact enrollment in an elective art program.

Color Carnival by Ashley Birkmaier, art teacher
Color Carnival by Ashley Birkmaier, art teacher

As it happens, our office was pulling some enrollment numbers this week and found a dramatic variance in the results. The numbers below are based on the first quarter of the current year, so it’s possible that they are not a perfect representation of total art enrollment for the full year. Nevertheless, as all of my high school art teacher colleagues know: if you don’t have the kids, you don’t have the classes, and if you don’t have the classes, you don’t need as many teachers.

Let me share some numbers with you to give you an idea of what we learned. (Some of these are especially for those who are not local and not familiar with our very large school system.)

  • Number of high schools included: 24
  • Average school size (grades 9-12): 2241 students
  • School size range (grade 9-12): from 1773 to 2768 students
  • Average art enrollment: 431 students per high school
  • Average art enrollment percentage: 19% of students
  • Lowest art enrollment percentage: 9% of students
  • Highest art enrollment percentage: 33% of students

Holy Cow! That’s a huge variance!

You might think there must be something  special going on at the bottom and top of that range, and you are absolutely right. Still, 21 of these 24 schools have art enrollment rates evenly distributed in a range from 14 to 24%, so even if you remove the outliers (one at the bottom and two at the top) there is still a significant variation.

There are a lot of things that can impact art enrollment, but if you immediately start thinking about those factors that are not in your control, then you are doing it wrong.

The most significant factors in art enrollment are controlled by the art teachers!

So what can we learn from the department chair at the high school with one in every three kids enrolled in an art course? There are two important factors, she says: the teacher’s mood, and the project you are doing when students are selecting courses for next year.

Perhaps I should have asked her to elaborate more on what she thinks the quality of that project should be, but I think we can all get the picture. The more dynamic and exciting the work happening in the art classrooms, the more likely that excitement will impact the students’ course selections.

What I found really interesting is how much importance was placed on teacher mood. Kate, the department chair, makes a point of reminding her colleagues regularly to take care of themselves, to take time for themselves, and not work themselves so hard that they are not happy and excited to be at school every day. It’s the mood of the teachers, she believes, that has a huge impact on whether or not students want to be in your classrooms.

If more art teachers take this to heart, what would happen? If more art teachers gave themselves time to do what makes them happy, took time to relax, to exercise, to make art? At the least, we would all be healthier, and if it resulted in more students wanting to be with us, then everyone wins. Maybe this is not really a factor in student enrollment, but 33% is hard to argue against. Oh, and did I mention that the same school anticipates a growth in enrollment for next year? The principal is already discussing the potential for another full time art teacher.

Thanks, Kate, for the conversation and for sharing your experience.




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