Boosting Enrollment and Attendance

Overview: How do you identify causes and solutions to poor enrollment or attendance?

This section offers solutions to common challenges concerning student enrollment and attendance. Use the recommendations proactively to establish systems early: enrollment and attendance are non-negotiable necessities for a tutoring program to succeed, and they do not happen automatically. However, this section can also be used reactively: if you find yourself struggling with enrollment or attendance at tutoring, or even with low school-wide attendance, return to this section throughout the school year to help diagnose the root causes and find possible solutions. Please see the accompanying District Playbook Workbook for additional materials.

What are common challenges to enrollment and attendance?

High enrollment and consistent attendance are usually the results of early investment and routine follow-up. When enrollment and attendance falter, common reasons include:

  • Lack of awareness about the tutoring program and its potential impact within the school community
  • Lack of investment from teachers, often resulting from insufficient program planning with teachers
  • Internal confusion over responsibilities related to enrollment, attendance, and program coordination
  • Incompatible student/tutor pairings or insufficient time for students and tutors to build relationships
  • Unengaging sessions and instructional materials, either too easy and boring or too difficult and confusing
  • Inconsistent school-wide attendance

Enrollment and Attendance Troubleshooting Checklist

Use this checklist to reassess your program’s fundamentals and identify areas in need of improvement. Time invested on this assessment at the outset saves time throughout the year, as any flexible response to new challenges should begin with an understanding of these fundamentals.

  • Strong Logistical Systems: Do you have clear systems in place at the beginning of the year to recruit and enroll students, track attendance, follow up about absences, and communicate with stakeholders?
  • Clear Roles and Responsibilities: Have you designated a point person or tutoring program coordinator who is responsible for ensuring student enrollment and attendance at each specific school?
  • Communication and Collaboration: Is your tutoring program coordinator regularly meeting with teachers and school administrators? Is your coordinator listening to and addressing these stakeholders' concerns?
  • Strong Relationships: Are you scheduling students to attend sessions with the same tutor consistently? Are you scheduling opportunities for students and tutors to connect with each other one-on-one?
  • Building Interest and Awareness: Are you investing time and effort in getting the school community excited about the program? Do teachers know when and how to refer students to tutoring?
  • Caregiver Engagement: Have you set clear expectations for student attendance from the start? Are you keeping caregivers updated on students’ progress and continuing to build investment in the program?
  • Student Engagement: Are you incentivizing attendance for students (e.g., celebrating students who reach a number of days of attendance in a row)? Are you working to ensure that students are actively engaged during tutoring sessions? Are you coaching tutors to personalize learning to each student’s specific needs and personality?

How do you boost enrollment at the outset?

Spend time building investment and excitement within the school community.

Successful tutoring programs require buy-in from the entire school community. Ensure that students, teachers, caregivers, and administrators understand the program and its benefits. Give them reasons to be excited about tutoring!

  • Have the school’s tutoring coordinator(s) introduce themselves and the program to school staff and set aside time to cultivate relationships within the school community. Ensure teachers and school staff know what to expect from the program and what it expects of them (e.g., how to refer students for tutoring).
  • Work with school staff and administrators on strategies to embed tutoring in the school culture. These strategies might involve incentivizing attendance for students, determining where and when tutoring sessions will take place, and having key teachers act as ambassadors for the program to their students or colleagues.
  • Maintain positive relationships with teachers through constant communication and collaboration. Establish an ongoing promotion of the tutoring program within the school community to build hype, and ensure that effective systems are in place for tracking attendance and other student data to share with teachers.
  • Build caregiver interest through thoughtful introductions to the program. Emphasize the benefits of tutoring during the initial phone call and letter home, and explain further by hosting orientations and workshops.

Adapt the enrollment process to caregivers’ specific needs.

During the enrollment process, program staff should establish clear expectations (e.g., student attendance) and provide information to caregivers in a way that is suited to their specific needs and concerns.

  • Reduce barriers to enrollment by adapting the process to caregivers’ specific needs, like preferred modes of communication (phone call, email, text, etc.), preferred language, and any necessary tech support.
  • Ensure that caregivers are aware of whom to contact with questions and concerns, and prioritize answering these questions and addressing these concerns to keep caregivers involved and invested.
  • Communicate expectations for attendance to caregivers before tutoring begins, and keep caregivers informed and engaged by providing regular updates on student progress.

How do you boost attendance throughout the year?

Approach challenges by seeking to identify and address the root cause.

While it may be tempting to apply a quick, simple solution, take the time needed to investigate the root cause of an issue. Delving deeper builds stakeholder trust, strengthens the program, and leads to a better experience for students.

  • When challenges arise, elicit input from all main stakeholders to understand underlying root causes.
  • Instead of doubling down on what isn’t working well, consider how you could adjust your approach.
  • Don’t take problems personally. To find solutions, approach the situation with open-minded empathy.
  • Monitor attendance and factors that might adversely affect it, and prepare strategies in advance for expected challenges (e.g., class schedule changes).

Build awareness and sustain enthusiasm among students to improve their attendance.

Maintain momentum through regular monitoring and progress updates. Sustaining enthusiasm requires not only keeping track of student progress and sharing exciting updates with stakeholders, but also reminding students about upcoming sessions and incentivizing their attendance through positive peer pressure and team-based competitive gamification.

  • Remind students about upcoming tutoring sessions. Send text reminders the day before (or during lunch for after-school tutoring). Collaborate with teachers to verbally remind students about tutoring throughout the day.
  • Group students into “buddy-system” pairs or teams, and reward each student for their teammates’ attendance. This encourages students to hold each other accountable for attending tutoring through positive peer pressure.
  • Encourage competition between teams of students. Include game-like activities in tutoring, and create public leaderboards of attendance and performance. Keep records updated, and reward teams that meet benchmarks.
  • Experiment with holding sessions at different times of day or days of the week, and track changes to attendance. This helps you identify when simple adjustments to the tutoring schedule could boost attendance dramatically.
  • Make tutoring feel less like a classroom: provide snacks, arrange the room’s desks into pairs or small groups, and consider using non-classroom spaces in the school (like lunchrooms or library spaces) to host tutoring.
  • For elementary/middle school: Pull up students’ class schedules, then send tutors to pick students up from their previous class and walk them to the tutoring session. This creates time for rapport-building 1-1 conversations.
  • For middle/high school: Offer tangible extrinsic benefits for tutoring attendance (e.g., “Come to tutoring and work on Topic X three times this week, and you can correct your assignment on Topic X for a higher grade.”)