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This was the second year that Niche surveyed parents to learn about their school search experiences. The survey was open from August 27 to September 19, 2021, and was posted to Niche, sent to registered parents, and shared in the Niche Parents Facebook group. Results were segmented into preschool searchers, K-8 searchers, high school searchers, and college searchers. For preschool searchers, we received 311 responses from parents and guardians with a child who started at a preschool in the fall of 2021.
A Few Key Results:
- While in 2020, public preschools and private/independent preschools with a religious affiliation were the most commonly considered school types, in 2021, private/independent preschools without a religious affiliation (66%) were the most commonly considered, followed by public schools (61%).
- Private/independent preschools without a religious affiliation (30%) and public preschools (24%) were also the most commonly chosen preschool type.
- Priorities for preschool selection shifted as well. In 2020, safety, curricula, teacher qualifications, and reviews from other parents were the most important factors to parents searching for preschools. In 2021, class sizes (78%) and teacher qualifications (74%) were significantly ahead of other factors. COVID-19 protocols and campus security were also separated for 2021; 51% of families said that COVID-19 protocols were most important and 34% of families said campus security was most important.
Fall 2021 Preschool Search Considerations
Local schools informed decisions about where to live for 87% of parents. Parents were also focused on ensuring that their children would benefit from individualized learning and high-quality teachers: class sizes (78%) and teacher qualifications (74%) were the most important factors for parents searching for preschools. Tuition cost (55%), distance from home (55%), and school hours/schedule (53%) were important, but they weren’t the most considered.
In 2020, more than half of parents started looking for preschools six months or less before they planned to enroll. In 2021, that figure slipped slightly to 45%. Families living in the Western Census region (38%) were the least likely to look for schools in this shorter timeframe.
Regarding school type, private/independent preschools without a religious affiliation took the top spot away from public preschools for consideration. Families in rural areas were most likely to consider public preschools while families in urban areas were most likely to consider religious private schools. Low-income families were also most likely to consider public preschools. For families that considered religious preschool options, Catholic and other Christian schools were the most popular affiliations.
If you aren’t already, administrators who are seeking to recruit families for this age group should incorporate messaging about individualized attention and teacher quality into your marketing outreach.
Preschool Enrollment Choices
Another shift occurred for the type of preschools parents chose to enroll their students in. While public preschools were most popular in 2020, in 2021, private/independent preschools without a religious affiliation (30%) were the most popular choice for families, followed by public preschools (25%). Urban and rural families were most likely to choose public preschools and families in small towns and suburbs were most likely to choose private preschools without a religious affiliation.
Public school administrators should take note of this shift, particularly in small towns and suburbs, and be prepared to highlight their schools’ unique offerings in order to remain competitive with their private school peers.
Ongoing Pandemic Impact
COVID-19 continued to impact families’ decisions regarding education going into the fall of 2021, with the majority of parents with preschoolers reporting that the pandemic impacted their families’ education decisions in some way. Difficulty handling remote learning (17%) was cited as having the greatest impact on families. This challenge was once again most common among low-income families, but to a lesser degree than in 2020.
A higher percentage of families changed schools going into the fall of 2021 (24% in 2021 compared to 15% in 2020). Sixteen percent of families changed preschools due to their previous schools’ response to COVID-19 and 8% decided to change schools due to cost. Low-income families were the most likely to change schools due to their previous school’s response to COVID-19.
Due to reports of an increase in homeschooling due to the pandemic, we also looked at trends among families who chose this option going into the fall of 2021; 13% of families searching for preschools chose to homeschool due to safety concerns and 4% chose to homeschool due to academic concerns.
The broader national trend of families seeking alternatives to public education is also showing up in this survey. Public school administrators should continue to monitor this change in behavior and recognize that enrollment is no longer a given—parents and guardians of students across age groups are rethinking how and where they want their children to be educated. As a result, public schools would be wise to adopt a more intentional approach to family recruitment, in addition to the work that is already being done to engage their current parents, guardians, and students.