It’s the middle of January, and if you lead a Catholic school, you’re frantically preparing for Catholic Schools Week, the pinnacle marketing effort of Catholic schools across the country.

A number of years ago, there was a push to create a “Christian Schools Month” in February.  That’s when most Christian schools start their re-enrollment processes for the upcoming school year, allowing them to then begin reviewing applications for new students based on the number of “seats” that are remaining in the classroom.

While you’re doing that, there are other forces at work – in the business office.

The budget year has a process right in the middle of it called forecasting.  It takes a look at the first six months of the year and the funds that were spent, and forecasts how much money will be saved or lost if the next six months are like the previous six months.  Unfortunately, for most schools, the most difficult month to collect tuition funds is January, when all the holiday bills start coming due.  The second half of the year is also the time that most schools expend dollars on marketing efforts for the coming school year.

Unfortunately, the process of forecasting is flawed, since it relies on the assumption that the second half of the year will be a lot like the first; however, with potential lower revenue and potential higher expenditures, by the time April comes along, many schools are making other kinds of plans…to merge or close.

This is also the time when your school’s administration and board is going to start budgeting for the coming 24-25 school year.  It was said that 15 years ago (the 09-10 school year) would be one of the most difficult years we’ve ever known due to our nation’s and the world’s economic situation.  It seems to me that the same thing has been said every year since.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, so here’s some radical thinking to consider.

Most likely, you’re operating your school year on revenues that are received during that same year. Tuition capture is most important because it pays the bills for the year. When revenue falls short, the amount of debt needs to be dealt with (or accumulates to the point that the school closes).  The lifeblood of any business is cash flow…enough money coming in to meet the due financial obligations.  If there is no cash flow, and credit or an influx of funding cannot be obtained, the business dies.  Whether you like it or not, if your school charges tuition, it is a business, proven by this simple principle.

If cash to meet obligations is essential to your existence, perhaps consider a model that generates your revenue the year before you use it!  It will make for some easier budgeting and rational decision based on facts rather than hope. You could do this over 5 years by adding 20% of your budget to your current year, and for the next four years. Don’t use the increase in funds – just put it on the side, and put the additional 20% on the side for the next four years.

While this is incredibly scary, there needs to be an education piece around it so that an understanding can be generated.

If you’re one of those parish-based schools that rely on your parish to subsidize up to half the cost of education for your students,  you can also consider that practice to be as dangerous to the continued existence of your school as the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Consider moving all the subsidy amount to financial aid based on need rather than an across the board reduction in the cost of education.

You might also want to consider a very long-term approach, and increase tuition 10% per year over the next 10 years, and put the additional 10% generated on the side every year for year 11.  Such thinking also demonstrates that there is a vision for the school, and planning is being put in place for continued success, rather than just hoping the school will be open next year.

Granted, this is a major shift in thinking from what all schools have been used to for the past 100+ years, but our economic circumstances have also changed. Not only economic conditions, but social, political, generational, technological and other changes which are CONSTANTLY occurring means that doing the same things over and over again with either produce the same results, or worse results, based on the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Schools must also examine actions in Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development to be ARMED for the battles that lie ahead, to see if those actions are effective, how they can be improved, and perhaps implement new initiatives to reach enrollment and revenue goals.

If you’ve never done this type of analysis before, well…you have a boatload of homework to do.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2024 (Original Publication Date: 20090112)