Quant Research for Independent Schools: Is It Worth It?

Alternatives that can help you make smart decisions

Quantitative survey research is a topic that comes up frequently when we’re working with independent schools to develop a brand strategy.  The idea of doing survey research among prospective families not currently in their inquiry pool is understandably very appealing.  Unfortunately, several obstacles make getting actionable insights from quantitative survey research a real challenge for many independent schools.

Answers to All the Right Questions

When developing a brand strategy, getting answers to all the right questions through market research is a top priority.

Those questions include:

Attitudes, Objectives, and Decision Criteria

  • What do qualified prospective families think in general about public versus private schools?
  • Under what circumstances would they consider a private school?
  • What are their education objectives for their children?
  • What decision criteria will they use to choose an independent school or to stay with their neighborhood public school?
  • How price sensitive (tuition and fees) are they?

Awareness and Perceptions of Local Independent Schools

  • What do they think about the sponsoring school?
  • What do they think of the competition, both public and private?

survey-research-word-mapCollecting the answers to these questions through survey research and analyzing the data can significantly increase confidence in decisions. We routinely conduct national-level quantitative research for our higher ed clients for this very reason.

The Challenges for Independent Schools

The problem for independent schools is that it is nearly impossible to generate a sufficient sample size to yield statistical significance. Not only is the relevant geographic radius around the school too tight, but the qualifiers such as wealth and the presence of school-aged children also shrink the pool.

On top of that, only a small fraction will respond.

A small sample size limits the types of quantitative analyses that are feasible. More sophisticated cluster or segmentation analysis, conjoint analysis, and regression analysis are all off the table.

In addition to sample size, the cost is also a barrier.  A professional market researcher must compose, field, and monitor the survey, and clean, process, and analyze the data. Asking a staff member with no research background “to throw together a quick email survey,” and pull out insights just will not yield reliable information.

Getting a list of qualified email addresses from a reputable vendor is an additional expense.

Cost Effective Alternatives to Quantitative Survey Research

Fortunately, there are easier and more cost-effective alternatives to answer all the right questions:

  1. The 2011 NAIS Parent Motivations SurveyUsing findings from the NAIS research, you can get a high-level understanding of the attitudes of potential types of prospective families in your market area.
  2. Qualitative research among external and internal audiences.  By qualitative research, we mean in-depth interviews and focus groups. For more on our recommendations of key groups to including in qualitative research, read our white paper, Independent Schools and Quantitative Research.
  3. A communications and brand audit of the sponsoring school and key competitors.  Assess and evaluate print and digital collateral; website and social media presence; and third-party reviews from sites like and local forums.

Qualitative research enables you to get below the surface of rational answers, to uncover the emotional drivers or influences on parental decision-making. By getting a 360-degree view of the school and its competitors from the eyes of key audiences, as well as an assessment of your current messaging and communications, you have a solid foundation to determine the areas of opportunity from which your school can build.

In fact, the resulting data is much richer than quantitative survey data collected from a small sample.

Learn More

For more on this topic, download our white paper Independent Schools and Quantitative Market Research now.