If you’re used to starting to work on your school’s budget for the following school year after the holiday/winter break, that’s going to have to change if you expect to continue to have a viable and vibrant tuition-charging school.

Times have changed…and in these past two years, times have REALLY changed!!  As was shared last month, parents want answers now.  They don’t want to wait until you begin the re-registration process in January, put the budget together in February, set the financial aid application deadline in March, wait until your need assessment provider sends you the results of their analysis in April, convene the financial aid committee to award financial aid in May, and notify families of their awards in June.  Then you hope parents will finalize their enrollment decisions and start making tuition payments in July.  Truth be told, that’s a major reason why enrollment may be declining in your school.  Shifting demographics and changing economic conditions are the easy scapegoats, but today’s parents have been so used to instant gratification since the introduction of credit cards, as well as a mindset constantly reinforced with the speed of today’s technology, “wait” is now just not part of their vocabulary.  Online shopping has come to the point of making next day delivery commonplace, and even with the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a rise in services like Doordash that bring food to you rather than you going out to get it, and shopper services at local groceries store that will do your shopping for you and bring it to your car.

So if you’re still holding on to “But that’s the way we’ve always done it,” the operative word in that sentence is “done,” and it applies to your school.  If you don’t meet the customer’s expectations today, your school has a good chance of being “done.”  That’s why it’s important to discover what your parent community’s expectations are, which is a great question to ask parents when they have their enrollment conversations with you.  It’s also important to have your school’s policies clearly outlined in a document that parents must agree to in order to be part of your school’s community.  After all, it’s a matter of justice.  There need to be guidelines for everyone to follow, and if some are and some aren’t, you’re always going to be stuck in the middle of a never-ending battle.

Decisions need to be made earlier and earlier regarding the future of a school, allowing for parents to adjust to whatever changes might be coming along, and to allow you to pivot to a backup plan.  From a practical standpoint, it allows the school to create new marketing materials, set up new banking accounts, and process legal documents that must be done when schools merge, or, in some areas of the country, when new schools open!

Also, if you’re considering shifting your tuition capture timeline from a July or August start to an April or May start, that’s a three-month shift.  Therefore, everything has to shift backward three months.  Those financial aid applications that were due in April would now be due in January.  Registration fees that started in January would begin in October.  Similarly if you started to work on your school budget in January or February, you now need to start in October or November, and looking at the calendar, I see that October is, yes, right where it’s always been…just a few days away!

The earlier a transition process begins, the more control you have over it, the more it can allow for communication, and the more smoothly transitions can occur.  Right after report cards/progress reports are distributed for the first 9 weeks, start working on your budget for the 22-23 school year.  Also realize that changing your processes may mean changing the tools you’re using in order to make things go more smoothly for your school and your school’s parent community.  Again, the earlier you get people around the table that need to be part of the conversation, the earlier you can make these decisions, and the smoother the transition process becomes.

While this site has 12 monthly articles on Asset Management, there’s a 13th article that’s not publicly available.  It’s designed to be the start of a new venture for those schools that want to solidify their financial future for the long-term, and not just create a  three- to five-year strategic plan with “hope” for financial stability and an ambitious action plan that may never come to fruition because it’s the last item in the strategic plan.  Send an email to schooladvancement@gmail.com with the words, “The Ultimate Financial Goal,” in the subject line if you’d like to get more information on this tip that helps to get not only schools, but families, out of debt.  It’s not easy – but it works – and, it’s actually part of a system that must be implemented to support the plan.