How to Manage Enrollment at Your Childcare Center in a Time of Uncertainty

During COVID-19, many families are hesitant to send their children outside of the home. Regardless of your capacity, your childcare center or preschool may be experiencing lower enrollment due to families’ concerns about safety or finances. It’s challenging to project revenue, plan ahead for staffing needs, and give accurate information to prospective families when your enrollment is uncertain.

In this article, we’ll share four strategies for gaining clarity and rebuilding your enrollment numbers during COVID-19.

1. Work with families who are on the fence about returning

If you have families who are reluctant to return to school, you may be wondering how long you should save their spot in the roster before opening it up to others who are ready to attend right away.

To start, reach out one-on-one to understand the circumstances of families who are on the fence. Is their hesitancy because of reduced income or is it about safety concerns? 

  • If they’re experiencing a loss of income due to COVID-19, you may wish to suggest a reduced schedule (such as two days a week instead of five) or offer a discount in order to keep them on board. [Note: If you use brightwheel to collect tuition online, it’s easy to set up a recurring discount as either a percentage or a dollar amount!]
  • If they’re concerned about health and safety, this is an opportunity for you to share your commitment to their children’s health. Reassure them that you understand their concerns, and share your health and safety policies—especially anything that’s new since you last spoke with them. Pictures and videos of your health and safety practices in action can help ease their worries. It can be a leap of faith for families to send their children back to school, so consider using a tool like brightwheel to give your families visibility into their children’s daily activities and a way to communicate with teachers.

Many centers have chosen to implement a monthly hold fee for families who are not ready to return. That way, your center is still bringing in some revenue, and families have an incentive to return. 

Consider placing a limit on the amount of time you will reserve their spot in exchange for the hold fee. If the family is still not ready to return at the end of that time period, you may give their spot to a family on the waitlist. Don’t forget to communicate this clearly to families so that there’s no confusion!

2. Revisit your tuition policy and communicate updates with current and prospective families

If you’re feeling the pressure of balancing the budget with increased expenses and reduced enrollment, you’re not alone. For some centers, raising tuition is necessary to make up for the higher cost of operating, from cleaning supplies to additional staff hours and more. For others, it’s too risky to raise tuition during this time due to reduced demand and reduced income for some families. 

Whether you choose to raise tuition or not, be sure to communicate transparently with families about why you have made that decision, and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Adding clarity around the context of your tuition policy will help parents understand your perspective and reduce the likelihood of turnover. 

If you are keeping tuition rates the same, you may wish to point out that despite rising costs of operations, you are not raising tuition now, but you may need to in the future. This can be a relief for families, while still setting realistic expectations for the future.

Now is also the time to revisit your tuition policy and make sure you have accounted for how you’ll handle tuition in the event of future closures. Many centers were caught off guard by initial COVID-19 closures and didn’t collect tuition for weeks or even months, leaving them in a vulnerable financial position. In order to avoid this in the future, many centers are choosing to add a clause in their tuition policies or enrollment contracts stating that in the event of a closure, they will continue to charge tuition for a certain amount of time. 

Regardless of what changes (if any) you make, being abundantly clear about your tuition policy with current and prospective families will help you prevent unexpected turnover in the future. 

Learn more about communicating tuition changes to families in this article!

3. Build up your waitlist and stay in touch with prospective families.

Even if you’re currently operating at reduced capacity, it’s wise to keep drumming up interest in your center from prospective families. Maintaining a healthy waitlist with high demand will help you adapt to your current families’ changing circumstances.

Before you start actively recruiting new families, make sure your online information is up to date, including your website and your social media accounts. Concerned parents will be researching your center online before calling, and you want to make a positive and accurate first impression! Be sure to check that your hours of operation are correct, especially if you’ve had to make changes after reopening. Indicate clearly that you are accepting new families to your waitlist, and share what you’re doing to keep children safe.

Conducting tours can be quite different during COVID-19. To limit the number of individuals coming in and out of the facility, some centers are conducting virtual tours, which can be anything from a cell phone video walkthrough of the center to a PowerPoint deck with lots of photos, which you can share with prospective families during a video call.

To gain an extra boost in enrollment, consider asking your current families for referrals. You can offer a cash bonus for a referral who turns into a paying customer. Additionally, you can reach out to partner with other early education centers in your community who may currently have more families than they are able to accept. 

Be sure to get target enrollment dates from prospective families. Ask parents to commit to as specific a date as possible so you can prioritize your waitlist. Any families who are not ready to commit to a start date should be placed at the bottom of the waitlist to make room for those who are ready to start.

Lastly, make sure to keep the line of communication open with prospective families! Share updates on what’s new at your center so they know what to look forward to. Communicating on a regular basis will build trust and give them confidence that they’ll be in good hands when it’s their turn to enroll.

4. Streamline your enrollment and admissions process by using brightwheel

Brightwheel is here to make the task of managing enrollment easier and less time-consuming. You can easily build and manage all of your waitlists and update priority order within brightwheel. Coming soon, you will also have the ability to accept enrollment forms and contracts online, saving time for you and your families!

To learn more about how brightwheel can help your center operate with less stress during uncertain times, request a demo today!


Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.