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February 8, 2022  |  Amy Rambo

Public vs. private: How to focus your K-12 marketing.

Parents send their children to private schools for all kinds of reasons. They might be looking for more advanced academics, or want their kids taught within a religious context. Sometimes, they're following a family tradition or just making sure their children can play a favorite sport. Whatever their reasons, with more than 16,000 public school districts and about 30,000 individual private schools in the United States, parents certainly have plenty of choices.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, public schools still attract far more students than private schools, with around 50 million students attending public school, compared to around 5 million enrolled in private schools.

While public schools have the raw numbers when it comes to enrollment, private schools hold impressive buying power and flexibility with their budgets. They don’t have to scrimp and save – or justify every penny spent based on state and federal regulations. Marketing effectively to private schools requires a different point of view, and insight into what makes them distinct from public institutions.

The major differences

The biggest difference between public and private schools is their sources of funding. Public schools receive funding from local, state and federal governments. Private schools rely primarily on students' tuition for funds. Private schools can also receive donations and grants. Because they don't rely on state funding, private schools are less affected by politics, making their budgets more consistent and predictable.

Another notable difference is admissions. Public schools must admit all students regardless of family income or special needs. Private schools can be more selective. Some private schools might require an admissions test to get in, with performing arts schools holding auditions. Student body populations at private schools may be all boys or all girls, or be divided by gender. Private schools can usually keep class sizes smaller because of their selective admissions process.

Private advantages

With less emphasis on standardized testing every year, private schools have more flexibility to teach beyond basic academic courses. Some independent schools, especially high schools, allow students to specialize in fine arts, music, STEAM topics and more.

For religious–minded parents, church affiliation is a major selling point. Around three–quarters of private–school students in the U.S. attend a school with an explicit religious affiliation. This means they need curriculum and other materials specific to their faith and specific denomination.

Christian schools are common, with 6,500 Catholic schools nationwide, but other faiths support K-12 schools as well. This school year, 28 Jewish private high schools are serving 4,685 students in California alone. In contrast, there are only around 200-250 Islamic schools in the United States. Faith-focused activities in private schools are often a part of music and theater programs, with educators always looking for fresh ways to present the topic.

Faith–based or not, most private schools have an explicit mission. Sometimes, it's about teaching future leaders. Some private schools promote community volunteerism. Whatever the theme, it usually permeates the school's culture, so marketing efforts that acknowledge their aspiration resonate more. Vendors who talk about their own desire to help students achieve see better results with private K–12 buyers.

The exceptions

Sometimes, public schools are the stars of their communities, even when compared to private institutions. Large high schools in affluent suburbs spend tens of thousands of dollars on theater productions – and millions on football fields.

Don't assume all public schools are squeezed for budget, as higher–income parents, boosters and communities often invest deeply in education, especially on college–focused extracurriculars and athletics. Institutions like this are competitive with other area schools, with an emphasis on each student achieving “their best.”

They spend money on school décor and trophies to show off school pride, and fund advanced classes and programs for student journalists, artists and entrepreneurs. There's also an emphasis on SAT and ACT preparation.

Your next K–12 partnership

The MCH education database lets you find the school buyers whose budgets and needs match up to your products and services. If you do the research to figure out your ideal education customer, you can use that to curate your K–12 data and keep it focused before you begin crafting messaging for similar or even individual schools you want to reach.

Our K–12 data add–on packs give MCH customers insight into school demographics like area income, diversity, enrollment numbers, test scores, finances and funding, even which weeks schools take for spring break. Our database lets you narrow further by spending per student and instruction models from military to Montessori.

When it's time to get really specific, you can choose from hundreds of job titles and functions, from chemistry teachers to lacrosse coaches. You can even figure out who's the new principal, and what the school colors and mascots are.

MCH made its education database so powerful and specific because we understand the education market. Our experts use their decades of experience to help companies strategize their messaging to match just the right data. Ready to get started?  Reach out to an MCH Relationship Manager at 800–776–6373.





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