What We Love About the NAIS & EMA Cost Per Enrollment Study

Private Schools Marketing

A little while back, we conducted a State of Independent School Marketing Survey where we asked school marketers questions that spanned from preferred tools to use to information that would be helpful to report to their boards. We learned a lot (and you’re welcome to deep dive here), but one of our biggest takeaways was the most critical data that school marketers can obtain and understand: how to translate that data to board-speak.

32% of our respondents shared that their teams are most likely interested in Campaign ROI Reporting as well as Admissions & CRM Reporting (21%). Recently, the Enrollment Management Association (EMA) and National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) joined forces to release a Cost Per Enrollment (CPE) Report. The findings are a goldmine for our private and independent school clients and have  reinforced our ability to provide great insights to our private and independent school clients— ultimately making the most out of their marketing dollars (and pleas for larger budgets to their boards!).

Here’s what we loved about the report:

Understanding the Cost Per Enrollment (CPE)

As school marketing professionals, it's easy to get caught up in an avalanche of day-to-day tasks, or in other teams’ priorities. At the end of the day, our goal is to keep a business (or schools) running – and running prosperously. It begins with understanding the data. This NAIS report showcases the multiple steps (and teams) involved in admitting and retaining students, and keeping this in mind is crucial for understanding costs that often get forgotten when understanding how much it truly takes to enroll a new student.

Mapping Out Strategic Decision Making

If our data is poor in quality, we make poor decisions. Keeping data clean—tracking costs, understanding what we’re spending (and why), and planning ahead—can pave the way for top-notch strategic action. Once your school has laid out these data points in a way that’s easy to understand, this report can act as an anchor for comparison. By taking into account the CPE for multiple schools, marketing and admissions teams alike can rely on this report to understand if you’re spending too much (or too little) to achieve your goals. In turn, your marketing team can use this data to help optimize your initiatives to better align with business goals.

Here’s what we learned from the report:

Average ROI

The report indicates a 7:1 ROI for tuition in a student's first year. If we talked about a 7:1 ROI exchange in the private sector, we'd have CEOs lining up to run that business! What’s more, this value is calculated for one year’s tuition—we know that the lifetime value of a student is across multiple years at every school, and they even have siblings who come along.

Tip: If your school is not full, turn these learnings into a path towards adopting an acceptable cost per acquisition that will inform marketing budgets and truly define marketing and enrollment success. Using this report will help you make a case to your CFO or controller that you may need to spend MORE.

The Private School Dynamic

The report lists a median cost of $697 per inquiry and $3,677 per enrollment. These figures bring to the forefront the importance of tracking a prospective family's journey from inquiry to enrollment. Precise targeting can bridge the gap between these costs. This data point presented in the report only underscores the importance of long-term strategies over isolated tactics.

Deeper Insights

As with all businesses and organizations, we know that private and independent school data is nuanced. NAIS and EMA knows this too, and they outlined some deep insights into things like taking boarding tuition into consideration. For example, the report offered data like a $6,284 median CPE for boarding, emphasizing the higher lifetime value of boarding students. Furthermore, the report suggests that no school type had an average of less than a 3.9 median ROI. At the basis, this report is a gold mine for private schools to use in marketing strategies moving forward.

Here are some next steps you can take:

First, if you’re a NAIS or EMA member, we’d highly recommend reading it for yourself! There’s a lot to be learned that we haven't begun to touch on in this post.

In a world where every marketing dollar counts, understanding and leveraging the data becomes paramount. The findings from the NAIS report underscore this—and with Metric Marketing, you're not alone on this journey. Donna Orem (NAIS president) said, "Strategic, data-driven conversations about enrollment should include, at minimum, your head, enrollment leader, business leader, and marketing department.” We think we’d make a great addition to this team.

In our years of working with leading private and independent schools around the world, we’ve seen firsthand how teams not coming together is one of the biggest things that holds a school back from allowing great data to drive decision making.  A big theme we see is something we like to call the “different screens” issue, where one team is looking at information from a different source than their colleagues. A perfect example of this is marketing teams using GA4 and other marketing data to talk about driving enrollment while the admissions team is using the SIS or their EMS data. While both are important, they might tell different stories or lead to competing interpretations.

At Metric, we know that a key step in bringing teams together is to get data into one place so the marketing and admissions teams can collaborate and find their correlation points, and then bring the information, or insights that the HOS or board needs to see forward. It's one of the many ways we help schools reach their inquiry, enrollment, and retention goals every day.


At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or use the form below to sign up and receive more marketing tips in your inbox.


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