1. The percentage of graduates who are accepted by the university of their choice. A quick scan of school websites will find this trumpeted loudly and will often include the number "ivy league" colleges, international programmes, and scholarship winners. What is notably absent from the statistics, and in most cases is not tracked, is how they do once they get there. The school may have given them the grades to gain entry, but did they give them the skills to be successful? This is the number that any Board or Executive Leadership team should have at their fingertips.
2. Year over year enrolment trends. Administrators often pride themselves on the fact that the school is "full". And, there is no question that a long-term shrinkage of the school population might be a serious issue unless it is approached calmly and strategically. However, the "full house" statistic may be equally problematic. The key question for Boards and Heads should not be how many "bums" there are in seats, but to whom those bums belong! Raw enrolment numbers don't tell that story. To understand the extent to which maintaining levels of enrolment might be masking a problem, you need to consider the enrolment "funnel" ratios (applications/acceptances/enrolees) to determine whether you are maintaining the same level of demand and therefore the same quality of new student as in the past. Boards also need to be aware of retention rates and patterns to ensure that you are maintaining a quality of programme that students and parents wish to be a part of.
3. Advancement trends. There is almost nothing that catches a Board's attention more than healthy advancement numbers. Schools usually do an excellent job of tracking number of donors, average gifts, and total amounts received. What is often not as easy to discover are some of the other key factors such as cost per gift dollar (NAIS recommends a maximum of 35 cents on the dollar which is about the median cost of fundraising in Canadian schools - meaning that 50% of independent schools in Canada are currently spending above the recommended maximum for each dollar raised). Another key question is the percentage of "soft" advancement income that is used to supplement tuition. Prior to the 2008/9 sub-prime crisis, the average NAIS school in the United States was spending $2000 more per student then they were charging in tuition. That meant that a school with population of 250 would have had to raise over $500,000 each year in donations or endowment income just to break even! By 2013 that differential had dropped to $200 (a mere $50,000 shortfall now!)
Effective data collection, tracking, and analysis is critically important for ensuring school sustainability. However if you are tracking the wrong things, it can also be the road to ruin!
(p.s. if you can't make it to Orlando for our discussion this week, you can always read my take on Governance and Sustainability in Beyond the Manual: a realist's guide to independent school governance.)