With budgets shrinking rapidly in public schools and concerns about the future, companies that sell to schools continue to look for new customers and channels. It’s no secret that homeschooling is on the rise, but what seems to be hidden is information about how you can reach and engage homeschoolers. Will the strategies you use for marketing to schools work? Let me tell you the secret, and it’s simple.
You have to get to know the market with all its quirks, assess your product fit, and then decide whether you can devise a strategy to turn its scattered participants into customers. I decided to unpack this topic for the STS audience with an interview with Glen McCandless on STS Radio, and with a three-part series of articles. Let's begin with getting to know the market. Here we go!
In order to develop an effective education marketing plan to reach the homeschool market, you must understand the numbers and diverse makeup of homeschoolers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999 there were approximately 791,000 homeschooled students in the United States. By 2003 that estimated number was between 900,000 and 2,000,000. Why such a large range? Many states do not require any notification or paperwork signifying a child is homeschooled; other states require only a letter of intent so they know the student isn’t truant.
Though there is no way to know exactly how many homeschool families reside in the United States, according to a 2007 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2.9 percent of school-aged children are homeschooled. Take note that the estimated growth rate for homeschooling families is between 7 percent and 15 percent per year, and, on average, parents spend 1.5 percent of their annual income for each child for homeschooling curriculum, supplies, and materials each year. This enormous market segment may be an excellent opportunity if you sell curricular materials or supplies to schools.
While the majority of homeschooling families are Caucasian and middle class, single-income families with an average annual income of $50,000, this does not represent the whole spectrum. Homeschoolers come from a variety of educational and income levels, as well as religious or secular ideologies. The diversity of homeschoolers is matched by the many different reasons and ways people homeschool.
Trinity University recently did a study on why people homeschool. The following reasons were cited:
• 48.9 percent believe they can provide a better education for their children at home
• 38.4 percent cite religious reasons for homeschooling
• 25.6 percent believe that a poor learning environment exists at traditional schools
• 16.8 percent cite family reasons
• 15.1 percent homeschool to develop morals and character in their children
• 12.1 percent object to what is taught in traditional schools
• 11.6 percent believe traditional schools don't challenge their child
• 11.5 percent say they don't like the available schools
• 9.0 percent cite behavior problems
• 8.2 percent have a child with special needs
While each family approaches homeschooling differently, there are three common types of homeschooling methods:
Structured Learning. These families follow a traditional school-at-home approach. They use materials typically used in a classroom and follow a timeline or a schedule.
Unschooling or Child-Led Learning. The word unschooling does not mean that they do not teach or use curriculum. These families generally use materials that align with their child’s interests and include many hands-on activities.
Eclectic Learning. These families use a mix of traditional and non-traditional methods tailored to a child’s needs.
Within these three main categories of homeschoolers, you will find a plethora of methodologies in use. Homeschooling families may adopt a literature-based approach or focus on a classical education, including studying the liberal arts, with Latin, Greek, and logic lessons. Others may employ computer programs and online schooling for the majority of their learning. Still others may create their children’s learning environment through crafts and music or movement.
After learning about homeschoolers and the different teaching methods they use, you must decide which of these segments best fit your products or whether the appeal is to all. It’s time to create a plan to reach these groups. In part two of this series, I will address specific ways to network with homeschool support groups.