NAIS Research: Defining the Role of Independent Schools in the 21st Century Economy


Independent schools are at a crossroads now. Many face a mounting set of challenges around mission, demographics, enrollment, messaging, and fundraising. At the same time, they have a growing opportunity to embrace change in ways that can make a positive impact on students, families, and society. To overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities, NAIS schools must be empowered and encouraged to transform themselves in ways that allow them to maintain their core character while becoming more competitive, relevant, and viable.

Executive Summary

NAIS has already begun working with schools eager to evolve and transform and has made the theme “Reimagine Schools” a core priority. A key component of NAIS’s thought process will be to find ways to help independent schools see the close connection between their long-term health and the 21st century economy and take action accordingly.

As part of this work, NAIS has undertaken several initiatives summarized in this report.
  • Ongoing analysis of trends in demographics, the workforce, and liberal arts education that have a major influence on who, what, and how independent schools teach.
  • A survey of NAIS heads of school on the most pressing issues schools face and how heads are approaching these challenges.
  • Interviews with experts in the fields of K-12 education and workforce development as well as seven current heads of school. The heads lead a diverse cross-section of institutions, from growing schools engaged in cutting-edge programs to ones struggling to maintain enrollment.
  • Research into the factors that motivate parents to choose independent schools. NAIS used the Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) methodology to conduct this research.
  • A workshop at the November 2018 NAIS board meeting that included four presentations and discussions of innovative learning and partnership opportunities that could serve as examples for NAIS schools wanting to better differentiate themselves in their markets. The workshop was facilitated by Entangled Solutions, an education innovation and strategy consultancy that also conducted the survey of school heads.
The research shows that NAIS members remain concerned about the future of their individual schools and of independent schools in general. NAIS will incorporate the findings and feedback from member schools into a strategic visioning process that will help drive the organization’s mission over the next several years. NAIS hopes that this report will provide insights into the challenges members face in the 21st century economy and offer potential ideas for adding value to an independent school education while remaining steadfastly devoted to the principles NAIS schools share.

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