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This fall, Niche surveyed parents to learn about their school search experience over the past 12 months. The survey was open from October 15 – November 15 and posted to Niche, sent to registered parents, and shared in the Niche Parents Facebook group. Results were segmented into preschool searches, K-8 searches, high school searches, and college searches. For preschool searches, we received 126 responses from parents whose child started at a preschool last fall.
Takeaways and Lessons
- The most commonly considered preschools are public (64%) and private/independent preschools with a religious affiliation (53%).
- The cost and distance from home or work are not the most important factor for families when choosing a preschool. Safety, curricula, teacher qualifications, and reviews from other parents topped the list.
- The majority of families are paying less than $5,000 per year for preschool, with a quarter of families reportedly paying nothing at all.
- The most common issue caused by the pandemic is difficulty managing online learning. This is even more prevalent for low-income families, where 73% said it was a problem.
Preschool search considerations
Local preschools play a part in where parents choose to live, 77% say that the quality of options played a role in where they chose to live. Contrary to what might be hypothesized, the type of area that the parents were from did not make a difference in how important they considered local schools. The location, or distance from the parents’ work or home, and the cost to attend are important factors; but not the most considered. Parents are willing to travel further for a preschool that they feel is a better fit. The most important factors when considering where to send their child were the safety, teaching style, and teacher qualifications.
Reviews from other parents were also important, but more so to high-income parents. Class size and safety similarly were more important to the families from the highest quintile of household incomes. Low-income families were more likely to care about the type of preschool they are sending their children to, the ranking, and the diversity of the preschool. You can use this information to tailor your marketing and messaging to the families you work with.
Over half of parents didn’t start looking for a preschool for their child until 6 months or less before they would enroll. The consideration phase is significantly shorter than for other types of schools, likely because of the length of time they will be enrolled there. The majority of parents considered public preschools or those with a religious affiliation. Public preschools are not available everywhere, so it’s interesting to note that these are so popular. In the midwest and south religious preschools are the most popular option. Baptist and Catholic preschools earned the highest consideration from parents.
Enrollment and re-enrollment
When it came to making a decision, public preschools were the most frequent choice with 37% of parents choosing to enroll there. There were regional differences in choices. The northeast and west were most likely to pick public preschools and the midwest and south were most likely to choose private preschools with a religious affiliation. Urban and suburban parents were also more likely to choose public preschools and rural families primarily chose religiously affiliated private preschools.
While cost may not have been the primary consideration for families, it’s still important. The majority, 56%, reported paying less than $5,000 per year for preschool with that share increasing to 74% for public preschool families. Most families who are paying some amount reported paying with their income or savings, with only a few using vouchers or loans.
Only 27% of parents said that they would not consider changing schools, so there is a great deal of flexibility in enrollment. Without needing to change enrollment due to a move, nearly half of parents said that they would change preschools for better academic opportunities or safety concerns. The least likely reasons for changing enrollments were the ranking of the preschool (11%), lack of diversity (13%), or disciplinary concerns (17%).
Effect of COVID-19
Most parents, over 70%, say that COVID-19 has disrupted their child’s preschool. The most prevalent issue, reported by almost half of parents, was difficulty with handling remote instruction. This was most prevalent for low-income families, where nearly three quarters reported that they were having difficulty. These are the parents who are already living in poverty and now must also somehow also handle childcare and education for their child(ren).
There were 15% of parents who reported that their child changed preschool; 6% because of concerns with the way the school responded to the pandemic, 3% because of cost, and 6% because the preschool closed permanently.