Strategies to increase enrollments in language programs

It breaks my heart when I hear about programs that have decreasing enrollment or worse, under threat of closure due to low enrollment. From my experience of working with schools and programs over the past decade I can honestly say that there is no “magic bullet” in a situation like this. It will take time for the program to rebuild. If you teach for or manage a program that needs a boost in enrollment, here are some strategies that may help:

1. Every semester plan an event around the language. Events can include:

Native Speakers’ Day – Bring in native speakers who are successful and could be considered role models to come into the school to give presentations on their work, their life, their travels, their culture or whatever inspires them. Get bios for each speaker and have students prepare questions to ask them.

Second Language Speech Competition – Bring in “celebrity” judges from your local community who speak the target language (politicians eat this stuff up and we’ve had good success getting both local,  provincial support and even embassy support for speech competitions).

Cultural celebration day – Have students showcase their work through videos, poster presentations and demonstrations. They can prepare food, perform a dance (or better yet, give a short dance class) or have a sing-along. Make the students who are currently enrolled in the program the focus of the entire day. Invite parents and community stake-holders to observe, drop by and share in the celebration. Having a local “celebrity” native speaker to offer opening and closing remarks or emcee the day is a huge boost.

The idea behind all of these is to get involvement from people in the community. This not only generates interest, when we get outsiders involved, it also builds credibility and legitimacy. These events take a huge amount of organization and I can tell you for sure, they are absolutely worth it.

2. Get media coverage. It breaks my heart when I hear about programs that have decreasing enrollment or worse, under threat of closure due to low enrollment. From my experience of working with schools and programs over the past decade I can honestly say that there is no “magic bullet” in a situation like this. It will take time for the program to rebuild. Here are some strategies that may help:

3. Have a contest – any kind of contest – with the students enrolled in your program. My favorite is a video contest on centered around a key question. My favorite is “How does learning a language change your world?” You can get more details on this particular activity in my downloadable ebook – “Want to Change the World? Learn Another Language: Leadership Inspired by Language Learning ebook” at http://wp.me/PNAh3-5H

If your school allows it, students can post their videos on YouTube. Their friends see it… they get talking, and interest in your program goes up.

There is no short-term solution for a language program that is in need of “program rescue”, but consistently celebrating students work, adding in the element of community, getting a local celebrity native speaker or two to champion your program and getting some positive media coverage will all contribute significantly to bolstering the program’s image and generating interest. Do that for several months and you’ll see your enrollments go up bit by bit. all of the above, work with your school secretary, principles and district communications office to send out press releases. I guarantee you that if your events get media coverage, you will generate interest. There is an art to writing press releases, and often school districts have strict protocols around communications, so working with your admin team and district is not only helpful, it is essential.

There is no short-term solution to your question, but consistently celebrating students work, adding in the element of community, getting a local celebrity native speaker or two to champion your program and getting some positive media coverage will all contribute significantly to bolstering the program’s image and generating interest. Do that for several months and you’ll see your enrollments go up bit by bit.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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