100% accurate and properly formatted addresses.
That sentence alone is sure to give anyone who works in school administration a laugh. Random capitalisation, inconsistent street types, and spelling mistakes in addresses can all seem like part of the job - which is frustrating, given that schools rely heavily on address data for a range of important business functions.
At the core of your school's communication, there's a physical address. The consequences of this data being incorrect or out of sync with other systems within your school can be subtle on the surface but ultimately far-reaching. So it's essential to do everything you can to improve and protect the integrity of that information and minimise the capture of bad address data.
What Makes an Address ‘Bad’?
There's a couple of things that can cause an address to be invalid. It may be incomplete and missing a street name or postal code, it may be incorrect, with a spelling mistake or missing characters, or it may be outdated, such as a lot number where street numbers are now used.
How Do Bad Addresses Affect My School?
Bad addresses are expensive
The first benefit of a clean address database is simple – bad addresses can cost you. This area for cost-cutting is not in individual mail-outs, but in bulk mail – whether it's newsletters, account statements, or any other mass communication your school is electing to send out by post. A correctly formatted and recognisable address can have something called a 'DPID' - or delivery point identifier - appended to it using specialised software.
A DPID in its raw state typically takes the form of an 8-digit number that gets converted to a barcode using a barcode generation program. You may have noticed when you receive an electricity bill or an account statement in the post that there's a small barcode above your mailing details. This is the manifestation of your address into a machine-readable format that allows Australia Post to process and deliver mail more efficiently. Because of the time saved on the processing end, the price of posting is significantly reduced – and those savings can add up quickly if direct mail makes up a significant portion of your school's marketing activity.
Mandated government reporting
There's also your school's mandated government reporting obligations to consider. Every year, schools submit a variety of data to the government across a series of reports – the government uses these to determine funding allocations, make decisions on focus areas, and generate statistics. One of the largest of these is the 'Student Residential Address & Other Information' collection – previously known as the 'Socio-economic Status Return', which is used to inform Commonwealth education policy and examine funding arrangements for non-government schools.
This collection requires non-government schools to provide information on every eligible student – and most importantly, it is required to give the student's residential address and their biological parents' address. The accuracy of the information you provide for this report can potentially impact your school's funding, so it's vital to be as accurate as possible. Here is where having correct and consistently formatted address data from the get-go can help you out. It means less time spent massaging data to fit the collection's template, and less time spent manually correcting minor typos and omissions.
So, the importance of having a clean and consistent address database is undeniable. But what steps can schools take to spring clean their records?
What Can We Do to Improve Our Data?
Break it up!
The first step is to take a fresh look at how you collect and store the address data from parents. Australia Post recommends allocating separate fields for each address element. Their Tips and Tricks guide advises that the input accuracy is usually greater using multiple fields than if using a single address line. Breaking your address forms up into smaller and more manageable chunks can also increase the completion rate!
Gone are the days of paper forms. Admin staff no longer have the time to decipher handwritten forms and manually type them into your system. This is messy work which often leads to human error and wasted time.
Encourage parents to go electronic and update their address details themselves.
Consider using software to verify address data at the point of capture. This software most commonly takes the form of an address 'autocomplete' – wherever a parent or staff member needs to enter their address, the software filters through its database based on the characters they've entered and offers a list of suggestions, all of which are verified and correctly formatted. This means your school gets accurate data, and your customers have a seamless experience with up to 80% less keystrokes required – it's a win win.
If integrating this software into your school management or portal solution isn't an option, many services (like our partners at AddressFinder) will also allow you to verify address data in bulk by uploading a .CSV, and will return your addresses with either a 'valid' or 'invalid' marker.
Autocomplete Addresses: Using AddressFinder to enter an address
How to leverage good address data?
Good address data is like gold to a school marketing and enrolments officer. It can be used to gain insight into the target audience, analyse marketing activity and create location-specific campaigns.
Address validation goes one step further in visualising the data using geocoding, so you can clearly see which locations are more successful than others. Take for example, there is one area of your local region which is booming with enrolments, ask yourself: why is that area so popular?
It could come down to many things: a good feeder school, bus routes, a billboard campaign, the socio-demographic of the area, and countless other reasons.
The point is, using heat map information can help you can see which tactics are successful and in what areas. This allows you to make effective use of your marketing budget and improve the quality of your enrolments.
Address validation features clusters and heat map.
To wrap things up, there are lots of ways bad address data can affect your school. If your address database has been built up over the years, it might be time to give it a spring clean.
It may seem like a daunting task at first glance, but the advent of modern address validation software makes the process much more efficient than in years gone by and will reduce the amount of ongoing maintenance your data needs.
If your school operates the TASS school management and portal software suite, our Address Validation program can help you out.