Almost every school I visit offers parents a standard monthly tuition payment plan that spans 10 months.  When I ask why that’s so, these are the usual answers:

  • “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
  • “Parents like it.”
  • “That’s how long our students are in school.  They start in August, and the last payment is due in May.”
  • “I never thought about it.”

Hardly anyone answers, “Because it hurts our enrollment efforts,” or “Because it’s easy to divide by ten.”

In the days before online payments, even before the calculator, it probably was a standard practice to divide by 10.  Tuition was $750 for the year, and paying $75 per month was simple to track on an index card or in a notebook.

But today, when a school’s announced tuition is $4,985 per student, and since anyone can do “10 math” mentally, here’s the typical parent-principal conversation:

“So what do you think of our school?  Did you enjoy the tour?”

“Yes we did, but tell me, what’s the tuition here?”

“It’s $4,985, but we have financial aid available for those with financial need.  We also allow parents to pay monthly.”

“Over how many months?”

“Usually 10”

Immediately, the parents have divided $4,985 by 10 and the number “498.50” is now in their head.  That’s probably higher than any monthly payment they currently have…except for their housing/rent/mortgage payment…and maybe their van…definitely their truck.  And that’s only for one child.  If there are three children in the school, we could be looking at a five-figure total, which might rival one’s payment for where they live.  Now, the parents are thinking, “We can’t afford that.  How will we ever work that into our budget?”

Here’s a suggestion – change your “standard” installment payment to 9 payments.

You’re now saying, “But wait a minute!  That number’s going to be higher…over $500 a month for one child!”

That’s not the point.

The point is that most people can’t do “9 math” mentally – especially if your tuition isn’t a “nice, round number.”  $4500?  No.  That’s why the example figure I used was $4,985.  That allows you to keep the parents focused on the remarkable qualities of your school, rather than on their wallets.  If they get out their phone to use the calculator app or start doing math in their notes, that’s where you ask what they’re doing.  If they say they’re figuring out what that’s going to cost per month, then, you can say, “So you’re willing to pay the full cost of tuition?  That’s a great gift to our school, and it requires sacrifice to make such a commitment.”

If the parents respond with, “Oh, no, we’re just trying to see what this is going to cost,” then the conversation moves to the application stage with this verbiage:  “Before you do that, let’s take the next steps and complete this application form, and with it, a financial aid application form.  Once we review the application and know we can meet your educational expectations, and enroll your child in our school, we can customize your payment plan to suit your particular financial situation, and we can even accept a down payment to make your monthly payment even lower.  So, if you think this is an environment where your child will thrive, then let’s take the next step rather than just jumping over it.”

Remember, your “9-pay” payment plan is the “standard,” and there’s no reason you can’t offer a 10-, or 11-month plan (or even an “every other week” payment plan) to those families who really need a little more individualized flexibility.  There are many schools that have registration fees, but if a parent wants to enroll their child in your school, then they may be willing to pay a down payment, helping to solidify your school’s enrollment for the coming school year.

In fact, a down payment, more than a registration fee, is what you should be considering for the 23-24 school year rather than an Enrollment fee.  Why?  It’s new and different – and these past few years have truly been different, giving you the opportunity to embrace the difference and try something different!  By not having a substantial down payment, you’re giving parents the opportunity to change their minds during the summer, giving you that “What happened?” feeling when the child doesn’t show up on the first day of school.

As for that registration fee, a number of schools I’ve worked with have a fee that ranges from $25 per family to $195 per family.  If your school has a registration fee, and you’d like an easy way to develop a 9 pay payment plan, send an email to [email protected] and use the words “9 pay plus registration down payment” in the subject line.

“Customized payment plans?”

“Meeting parent expectations?”

“Individualized flexibility?”

Yes – that’s what today’s parents want to hear .  You’re offering them a “personalized” experience.  And even amid economic difficulties, parents will still pay for excellent “experiences.”  Just ask those who asked for an adjustment in their tuition agreement so they could enjoy a cruise, took time out for a vacation, or are driving a new vehicle.

Please note that I didn’t say “purchased” a new vehicle.  Listen closely to the commercials for vehicles today.  They don’t mention “owning” a car anymore; they talk about the “driving experience.”  Today’s parents of young children are of a different generation than they were a decade ago.  They “like” and “share” their experiences with their “friends” on social media, so make their “experience” of your school one that they’ll want to “like” and “share” too.

By the way – you may have noticed that there was no 12-pay plan mentioned above.  That’s a “last resort” payment plan, and should NOT be considered to be a standard option since it gives you “no place to go” if a parent encounters a hardship during the year.  Instead you could amend the “9 pay plus registration fee” to “11 pay plus registration fee,” or do an every-other-week plan.

There’s even the “exception month” option which may revolutionize the way you collect tuition.  Want more information about that?  Email [email protected] with the words “Exception Month Tuition Schedule” in the subject line.  Having this payment plan as a option could be one of those unique differentiators your school may be looking for!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2015-2024 (Original Publication Date: 20150121)