The decision to enroll a child in your school is an emotional one. Logically, school administrators know it is the right decision – but the only way that parents will realize it is by coming to that realization themselves. This is where service and vision are related – getting parents excited about the vision regarding where the school is headed, allowing the school to serve them by helping in their child’s formation.
It seems that every year at this time, schools are incredibly worried about enrollment for the coming school year! So many things that cause significant worry combine to lead one to a persistent state of anxiety, and, unfortunately, that mindset then pervades the things we do as part of our every day tasks.
First, remember that Jesus told us not to be anxious. Second, remember the words of Saint John Paul II when he became the Bishop of Rome – “Do not be afraid.” Third, when it comes to growing enrollment, the first step to increase enrollment is to keep the enrollment you have.
When current parents in your school start making decisions on their own, in the privacy of their home, enrollment starts to deteriorate if they decide to disenroll their children because of “what might be.” Even if they believe times are bleak now, they may very well be much better 4 months from now when school begins again.
Therefore, when you’re preparing tuition invoices or your financial aid award letters, consider distributing them in person!
A personal conference-type setting can reassure them and offer that hope. This way, parents can express their anxiety, and receive reassurance that the school will do all that it can to address demonstrated financial need. This is the opportunity for the school to show parents that you’re all in this together.
If your monthly invoice/payment reminder is handled by a third-party company, then you’ll definitely want to generate financial aid awards before tuition payments start. Of course, if your school can’t give parents their financial aid information until some point after school begins, you may be finding your school’s enrollment is declining…and declining enrollment means your parent community is eroding, which is detrimental to your school’s word of mouth marketing efforts.
Frankly, if your financial aid provider only processes financial awards after all tax documentation is submitted, and you can’t even get an idea about what a family qualifies for until the end of July or the beginning of August, you’re enrollment growth efforts may be significantly hampered.
Meeting with your parents is a way to build community, since community is formed when individuals come together for a particular purpose. Hundreds of parents acting as individual families demanding that their needs be met before they commit is nothing more than chaos – and, frankly, it’s been how the majority of faith-based schools have operated for the past several decades, and why school administrators get so stressed when dealing with tuition.
40 years ago, and prior to that time, it was accepted by parents to be told what to pay (if anything) and they sacrificed to do it or be able to do it. The problem is that we’ve spent the past 40 years with the same expectations, not realizing that Baby Boomers were not the same as members of the Great and Silent Generations, and then also not realizing that members of Generation X really don’t have an appreciation of how the action of one affects the life of the entire community.
It’s even not a stretch to say that Generation X parents really didn’t care about the fact that they were part of a community, because they were focused on the educational experience “my kid” had. Today, a new generation of parents – The Millennials – are enrolling their children in elementary school environments, and the children of Millennials will also be in full force in grades 9, 10 and 11. Millennials realize the importance of community – but your school’s revenue structure will play a significant role in whether or not they’ll be enrolling children in your school.
Their communities are different from the ones of the past, too. They’re not neighborhood communities – they’re online ones.
Setting up individual parent meetings to discuss financial expectations may sound like a lot of work – and it is. And it will be significantly more difficult but imperative to do so this year and into the future. However, it gives your school’s parents the individual treatment they crave, as well as offering a teaching moment. During these meetings, your role is to tell parents how important they are to the continued success of the school, and their recommendation of “their” school to “their” friends will help build your school’s community of parents, guardians, teachers and students.
It’s better to put time and effort into this exercise and know what you’re facing, rather than just sending award letters home, and hoping parents return in the fall. Remember, hope is not a strategy. It’s a promise rooted in faith and supported by love. It’s all three – together – inseparable – just like another trinity we’re familiar with.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2023