If you’ve been shopping for holiday gifts this year, no doubt you’ve found some fantastic bargains, and then somehow, you find you’ve spent more than you originally intended.  Retailers are masters of marketing – placing items that would make great stocking stuffers right next to the checkout lines.  And, since you’re waiting there, you’re looking at something and get the idea, “Oh! This would be great for Uncle Harry!”  Multiply this by the many stores or Web sites you’ll visit this year (with their popups that exclaim, “Wait!  Check out this great deal before you check out!”), then multiply it by the number of shoppers during the season, and….oh well, it’s better to give than to receive, right?

Then the bills come.

When those bills hit the mailboxes of parents who have children enrolled in your school next month, two things can happen: 1) You may not get your January tuition payment – and you’ll probably have some that can’t pay your second semester tuition payment all at once; and 2) Parents start thinking about whether they’ll be able to afford your school next year.

Since this is still Advent, the season of preparation, take some time during the last days of the year to think about the coming school year.  If you’re an administrator for a Catholic school, also think about Catholic Schools Week a little differently this year.  Catholic Schools Week is NOT the time to plan on bringing more students into your schools – your enrollment efforts should have started back in September.  This is the time when your current parents’ decisions to re-enroll for next year can be reinforced.  The people currently engaged with your school are the ones who “Celebrate Catholic Schools!”  Parents that don’t have their children enrolled need to be committed to your school before they can celebrate.  More about that next month.

This month, let’s examine the cost of a faith-based education.  Here are a couple of things to think about as you ponder preparing the budget for the coming school year:

1) If you have small children, how much do you pay your sitter?  If you don’t have little ones, ask someone who does, especially this time of year, when plans are being made…perhaps for New Year’s Eve?

And when the sitter comes to your house, does she bring educational activities to expand your children’s mental agility…or is she more prone to tuck them in bed, watch a movie, eat pizza (that you have to provide) and talk and text on his or her cell phone?

If it’s more than $5.00 an hour, that rate would compare to a yearly tuition of at least $5,400.  180 days per year at 6 hours per day!

Now, take your current per student tuition, divide it by 180, then divide the result by 6.  “That’s how much?  You’ve got to be kidding?” (See, and I’ll bet you thought when you read the title of this article that the expression referred to how much, rather than how little, your school’s tuition really is.)

2) Consider the local daycare establishment, licensed and staffed by trained professionals.  If it’s affiliated with a community organization, members may pay $36 per day; non-members may pay $45 per day on the average.  Let’s do some quick math…that translates to either $6480 or $8100 respectively for 180 days of service.  Is your school’s tuition somewhere in that range?  Does “members” and “non-members” sound like “affiliated” and “non-affiliated” churches or “in parish” and “out of parish” rates?

And for some of these organizations I’ve researched, the higher rates are for the younger children because there is more attentive care necessary for a 6 month old than there is for a 2 year old child.  I’m sure your school offers a higher tuition for the younger students where there’s more demand, and then a lower tuition for the older students.  What?  Your tuition is the same for every student…but younger students receive an incentivized rate?  No wonder your school may be in financial peril!  That’s not how your target audience has been accustomed to think!

But all these examples constitute logical mathematical arguments.  Other than the surprise factor, logic doesn’t “sell,” since sales isn’t about logical decisions.  Transactions are.  However, when you add an emotional factor, that’s when “sales” happen…and enrollment = sales.  Both processes have funnels that track “prospective customers” through their various stages of relationship, and enrolling more tuition-paying students means more revenue will be finding its way to your school to pay teachers, improve curriculum, enhance technology, support activities, and create an inviting facility.

So let’s look at some terms that might be associated with how parents may view tuition at your school.  Here’s a 3-point scale relating to affordability that some people might agree with:

  1. Free
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Expensive

Given these choices, most people would choose #1 – however, as we’ve painfully seen in today’s economy, there’s always a price to pay somewhere.  Let’s add another step added to the scale, since, if you’ve been a follower of this Web site, you’re aware that 3 leads to 4, and we’re constructing an “affordability” scale:

  1. Free
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Affordable
  4. Expensive

If you agree that tuition must be affordable, consider that today’s parents think along these lines:

  1. If it’s free, there’s a catch
  2. If it’s inexpensive, there’s something lacking
  3. If it’s affordable, then maybe we can do this
  4. If it’s expensive, it’s out of my price range

Once again, you know that if 3 leads to 4, then 4 leads to 5 to complete the system.  After adding the 5th option, I’m sure you’ll be able to see what your school must strive for:

  1. Free
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Affordable
  4. Desirable
  5. Expensive

Note how affordable is a “logical” decision.  “Maybe we can do it” require some thinking, but adding an emotional component to it changes the parental thought process completely:

  1. Free – there has to be a catch
  2. Inexpensive – we could do this, but do we want to if we find there’s something lacking
  3. Affordable – maybe we can do this
  4. Desirable – how can we make this affordable
  5. Expensive – there’s no way we can do this

In this analysis, many faith-based schools have been stuck at #2, playing “the price is right” with families.  If it’s “all about the tuition,” then that becomes the reason a parent points to when they leave your school.  There may have been a bullying incident, an issue regarding a homework assignment, or an expectation that is beyond the parent’s ability.  Those are issues that can be dealt with…but when a parent wants to leave because of one of them, they know that if they say they can’t continue to afford the tuition, their comments are usually met with understanding.  Therefore, we have to move to #4.  Even if tuition is “affordable,” the environment might not be “desirable.”  The environment of your school must be “desirable,” making parents go, “Wow – we need to enroll our kids here!”  Parents should be told, “It may seem like our tuition is high, but we strive to create an exemplary educational environment, and we have financial aid for families who believe they cannot afford the full cost of tuition.  Before you make a decision based solely on the tuition amount, come visit our school, and experience it for yourself.”  If they have a great experience, become emotionally interested, and continue to be engaged, the relationship will grow…and so will your school’s enrollment!

May you and yours be blessed with a joyful and a memorable Christmas experience.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2004-2019 (Original Publication Date: 20041221)