My career in teaching began when I was in 8th grade.  The previous year, a teacher in our school started an afterschool program, teaching group guitar lessons to about 40 students.  I asked if I could help, since I had taken guitar lessons from the time I was in first grade.  I became the “assistant,” and learned the value of “students helping students.”

The following year, the teacher was no longer at the school, but most of students wanted to continue guitar lessons.  Further, there was a whole additional group of students that wanted to start.  Because it was an afterschool activity, our principal asked this 8th grader if he wanted to teach both groups of students.  I was young and naive, and said, “Yes!”

Even though I had to create lessons plans for two groups, one beginner and one intermediate, I was dealing with not just “ability to learn” issues, but “talent” issues as well.  It was way back then that I started thinking that classroom education was not necessarily the way for students to learn to their potential, since it’s the equivalent of group music lessons.  It’s great for beginners to lay the foundation for learning, but individualized instruction was the way for students to really excel and achieve to their potential.

As I progressed through high school, I learned not only what was taught in the classroom, but paid particular attention to how the scheduling of classes had an effect on students, and how the classes were organized.  When I enrolled in college for music education, the expectation was to not just learn your major instrument, but learn to play all instruments, learn instructional pedagogy, strategy and techniques, gain a perspective of music history, compose and arrange new music pieces and interpret the works of others, and observe current learning environments present within schools in the area.  It was a totally different experience than taking a calculus class and applying the proper formulas to solve equations or word problems.

My learning after that school year was that a fundamental change was necessary in education.  My other learning was that even though educators were instruments of fostering change in their students, and experienced constant change due to changing schedules and students from semester to semester, teachers “hated” change.  The life of a teacher, then, becomes oxymoronic, struggling with a concept that is germane to their chosen field.

Today, over 40 years later, many faith-based and private schools in some parts of the country are struggling with shrink, mergings and closures, while other schools are dealing with unprecedented growth issues.  While these seem like two different problems, they’re actually symptoms of the same issue – doing things the way things have always been done.  While our worldwide pandemic, however, has created a “new normal,” there is significant discussion about “going back to the way it was.”  Unfortunately, that’s called “regression,” not “advancement.”

If you’re reluctant to change, realize that you’re reading this article on a computer or a mobile device, not a book or a memo typed on a Remington typewriter and copied on a spirit duplicator (and for those of you that remember the ditto machine, you’ll also remember students inhaling the papers that were produced with this technology).

Change is constant.  It’s perceived as macro (since headlines that refer to change usually refer to “big” changes), immediate, and threatening.  While it’s also perceived as just happening once, we all know that just one change will lead to other changes, which is why it’s feared.  There are specialists today that deal with change management, and there’s a series of articles on my personal site at www.mikeziemskimed.com that deals with the subject.  It helps, however, if change is planned for.  Then change is viewed as “transition.”  But then there’s the “big” issues…so let’s consider a “shift” rather than a “change.”

With that in mind, there are five shifts that need to take place to solidify a school’s financial foundation today:

  1. Shift the tuition payment calendar from a July, August or September start to a start in February, March or April.  Parents can then use their tax refund as a down payment rather than schools waiting for it all year long, and then, surprise, it’s not what the parents expected, or it becomes earmarked for other expenses;
  2. Standard payment plans should be 9 months long rather than 10 months.  This allows for more productive enrollment conversations since it’s more difficult to mentally divide a tuition amount by 9 that it is 10.  This keeps the conversation focused on the school, rather than on the cost to the parent;
  3. Using a tuition payment plan and billing management solution from FACTS to stop chasing tuition and start chasing enrollment.  All families should be on FACTS as your financial information system, just like every student is on your student information system for grades and attendance;
  4. Shift from subsidized tuition (or planning tuition from a revenue perspective) to cost-based tuition (basing tuition on the cost of education).  Many schools plan their budgets by trying to guess what parents will accept as a tuition increase, then cut expenses or have more fundraisers to cover expenses.  Start with compiling all expenses and determine the cost of education, then divide by the number of students in the school.  Then tuition can be set as a marketable amount based on the cost of education; and
  5. Shift from providing tuition assistance to offering financial aid.  It’s the language of higher education.  Tuition assistance is a way to “help” pay for the tuition, and was great when tuition in schools were in the 3-figure range.  Now that K-12 tuition is in the 4 to 5 figure range, realize that is what today’s parents paid for college (and are still paying for college), and they applied for “financial aid.”  As the Chinese proverb states, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”  And if we’d like our students to become wise, we need to begin speaking correctly.  As for applying for financial aid, the earlier you can get data relative to a parent’s financial need, the better your planning will be.  This timeline also needs to shift backward to start in November, rather only beginning the process in January or February so that you can receive data in March, and make awards in April.  Once again, using FACTS for financial need assessment gives your school control over the timeline, and since online applications are processed immediately, your timeline and workload can be significantly improved.

For more details about how all these elements can work together, and your school is located in Central/Western New York, Central/Western Pennsylvania or West Virginia, email me at mziemski@factsmgt.com so we can set an appointment to chat.  If your school is outside this area, email me and I can provide you with some additional resources regarding these fundamental shifts, and thank you for your consideration!