Since the article “Change or DIE” was the cover story of FAST COMPANY Magazine fifteen years ago, perhaps we should take a quick look to see what has changed over the past fifteen years.
I’m sure you’ll agree that everything has changed. Our nation’s political and economic climates have changed, along with our atmospheric climate. Companies that were thriving fifteen years ago don’t exist today. And with today’s “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, if we had any doubts about how global our “Global economy” is, there is no doubt about it now.
Newborns fifteen years ago are today’s 10th graders. When they entered Kindergarten, they already knew how to use a computer. Some of them probably knew their alphabet, and knew how to type – okay, keyboard. Today, they’re probably learning how to code, and, some are only a couple of years away from creating an app that will make them millionaires before they’re old enough to vote. The iPhone and iPad are the new computing platforms of choice. Proof that even in economically hard times, people will still embrace innovation. Aside from despair, innovation is the only thing that increases in difficult economic times.
As we continue to move forward, it becomes clear that the “cure” for change is – well, more change. Even our faith tradition embraces change, since we are changed by hearing the Word of God in Scripture. During the Easter season, we are reminded, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
But after visiting hundreds of schools over the past decade years, and hearing their concerns, it’s apparent that no one likes change. I believe that’s because we fear it and fight it, rather than embrace it. Education, after all, is a process of change. Every year, the student’s grade level changes, and every day, more learning happens, meaning that the students who enter the school are changed, ever so slightly, when they leave for the day.
Unfortunately, change is perceived in a “macro” sense. That is, any change will be “a big change.” When people talk about change, there is usually an announcement made, or a media event that’s created. Our media-driven culture has changed our mindset to assume that “big changes” are coming. In the workplace, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they discover that the “changes in personnel” meant 3 vacant positions were not going to be filled, one temporary employee was going to be released, and one person would shift departments.
Perhaps change might not have to be so radical after all. May I be so bold as to propose that we simply SHIFT.
When you think of it, a shift is a change…which can also have radical consequences. In an earthquake, the earth “shifts.” It just moves…a little…and we’ve all seen what power such a small shift can have.
In the case of our schools, let’s just shift our timeline three months, and see what could happen. Schools currently begin collecting tuition in July for the school year that starts in August and September; active efforts at enrolling students during Catholic Schools Week, or after the Christmas break in Christian schools; and financial aid applications become available in February and are due in March or April to coincide with tax season.
Let’s move the whole thing back just three months.
Schools would begin collecting tuition in April; active efforts at enrollment would begin in October; and financial aid applications would be available in November, and due in December or January. THAT, my friends, is EXACTLY aligned with where things need to be today. Parents today are different from the parents of 15 years ago, and we’re still continuing practices we had back then, making us wonder why things aren’t improving.
What are the benefits to this shift?
By April, parents have filed their tax returns, and if they get a refund, want to pay their tuition for the current school year with it. Unfortunately, if your school waits until April, that means there is no cash flow throughout the year to pay teachers, the refund may be smaller than anticipated, and there may be some other issue that receives priority when the tax refund does come in. Shifting the timeline would allow the refund to be used as a down payment on tuition, ensuring enrollment for the coming year, and easing the monthly tuition burden. The school will have a sizable amount of tuition collected by the time the school year starts as well. And, wouldn’t it be great to offer a payment plan that starts in April and is complete by December 31st, when the Christmas bills start to hit? A 9 month payment plan – April through December. Imagine. All tuition paid before Christmas. I think you’d enjoy your Christmas break a little more.
Official enrollment figures are due to many state education agencies on October 1st. As soon as those figures are reported, enrollment efforts for the following year NEED to begin. That’s when parents of Pre-K children start thinking about what will happen to their children next year when they’re ready for Kindergarten, and THAT’S the time to capitalize on the opportunity…not waiting until the second semester begins!
Apply for financial aid in November? Certainly! Parents need to get used to it, since they’ll have to do it for college. If you use a company to ascertain estimated financial need, and they won’t process the application until all the required tax forms are submitted, it’s time to change your need assessment provider. If the company you use won’t start processing applications until January, it’s time to change your need assessment provider. Interestingly, I find it simply amazing that a new financial aid assessment company has come in to the marketplace saying that they won’t process applications until all documentation is submitted as one of their features to ensure compliance. Unfortunately, while that might be great for organizations who want to promote school choice initiatives, it can spell disaster for a school who is trying to grow their enrollment.
What are the roadblocks?
If your office or tuition management company can’t handle such a shift, use a company that can. If your need assessment provider can’t handle such as shift, use a company that can. If you don’t have an enrollment program to really follow-up with potential parents rather than “hoping” they call you after you mail them a packet of information, institute a follow-up program, or use a company that provides tools to assist your efforts. Want more information about this? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “tuition and financial aid timeline shift” in the subject line.
In fact, if you visit this link, you can order my eBook on how you can implement a shift like this to set your school on a firm financial foundation.
The only other roadblocks are the mindsets of the folks you’re working with. You need to build a compelling case for such a change, and become passionate about your vision. The future of your school may depend on it.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2020 (Original Publication Date: 20100420)