Data-Driven Decision Making: Three Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Strategy

At Prizmah, we believe that data and analysis has an important role to play in a leader’s decision-making and strategy. This article presents three ways school leaders can utilize data to elevate both their strategy and practice.

1. Utilize comparative school data. Comparing your school’s financial and operational metrics to schools with similar profiles is a fundamental step in improving your schools financial health and educational excellence. By gaining insights into where your schools compensation ranks in the marketplace, you can make informed decisions that impact staff recruitment and retention. Looking at the percentage of net tuition collected at comparable schools can help you and your board make better decisions about financial aid and the impact of non-tuition revenue.

Free tools like Data and Analysis for School Leadership (DASL) is a great place to start accessing this information. DASL will allow you to compare your school’s metrics to local, regional and national schools or a comparison group that you choose. More than 120 Jewish day schools and yeshivas now participate in DASL for their data collection and analysis of the day school market.

2. Look at economic trends. Economic fluctuations can significantly influence your school’s financial stability. Proper-long term financial planning necessitates an understanding of the implications of economic trends, such as how inflation in 2021-2022 affected your school’s overall purchasing power. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2023-2025 projection (in the US) and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (in Canada), in the coming years interest rates will remain high, gross domestic product growth will be slow and unemployment is projected to go up slightly. This means the economy will not be getting better in the near future.

Here are ways you can use this data to impact your planning. Ask yourself, how do these economic trends impact our current and prospective families? What financial impact might higher interest rates two or three years from now have on your families? How will sustained inflation impact salaries and your school’s purchasing power?

How will fluctuations in stock market values impact philanthropic support for your school? How do they impact your school's day-to-day operations, the launch of new programs or planned facility investments? Equally, it's crucial to assess how these trends impact your financial-aid budget, ensuring its alignment with the evolving economic landscape.

3. Understand general and Jewish population trends. A deeper study of your community’s demographics can have real implications for your school, over both the short and longer term. The decline in U.S. and Canadian birth rates over the last decade, coupled with a decreasing fertility rate, presents both challenges and opportunities for all private schools.

The number of births in the US has been dropping precipitously, from 4.32 million births in 2007 to 3.66 million in 2021. The total fertility rate in the US has also been decreasing, from 2.12 births per woman in 2007 to 1.66 in 2021. Canada has been experiencing similar trends; in 2021, Canada had a fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman.

The Jewish community’s birthrates look slightly different, according to Pew’s most recent data on Jewish birth rates. In the Orthodox community, the average number of children born per adult is 3.3. For Reform Jews, it’s 1.4; for Conservative Jews, 1.8.

Another important trend to watch: The National Center for Education Statistics is projecting a significant dip in enrollment for first grade in 2027 and 2028 due to the drop in births during the pandemic. If you lead an elementary school, how might knowing that you may have a lower enrollment for those years affect your plans? Should you project a smaller class size for that age cohort in your budget?

That age cohort will continue to high school in 2035. What would a significantly smaller age cohort mean for your high school? How might your strategy and budgeting take these variables into account? How might your admission and development team work together to plan and strategize for a potential decrease in enrollment or funding?

As people have fewer children in general, school leaders should anticipate how this demographic shift will influence your recruitment efforts and the composition of your student body. If this continues, it will mean there will be fewer children in our general population and fewer school-age children than in previous generations. Knowing that people are having less children in general, how might you shift your recruitment strategy to ensure a steady or growing enrollment?

As stewards of our educational institutions, school leaders bear primary responsibility for charting a path toward success in an ever-changing environment. Through the embrace of benchmarking data, economic and population trends and demographic shifts, school leaders will be better able to steer their schools toward greater financial health, improved academic excellence and long-term financial sustainability. Successful implementation of these strategies may serve not only to elevate your schools overall strategy but to strengthen its ability to adapt and thrive amidst the constant evolution of the educational terrain.

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AI and Tech
Fall 2023
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