With the school year well underway, it’s time to start planning for next year.

Once again, you may be thinking that the school year isn’t even 1/4 over yet, and we’ve only started “thinking” about what we’re going to be doing for Catholic Schools Week if you’re a Catholic school.  If that is what you’re thinking, you’re about a year behind from where you should be…but that’s another topic for another day.

But since the year has started, you might start hearing parents commenting about your schools’ tuition.  No matter how many principals I speak with, all of them get frustrated when they hear this type of conversation between parents:

– “I don’t know how much longer I can keep paying this.

– I know what you mean.  This year, we got back from vacation and there was a notice that our first month’s payment was due!  That was July!

– Where did you go?

– We had great time, especially now that things are opening up after the pandemic!  It was a 6-day cruise aboard one of those huge ocean liners…they even have their own private island!

– That sounds wonderful!

– It really was!  By the way, what happened to your Volvo?  I  saw you getting out of an Acura.

– It was such a great deal we couldn’t pass it up.  And the all-wheel drive will be great in the winter.”

Now, before you say, “That’s the same argument that everybody makes.  If they’d only make different choices, then they could afford the tuition!” you need to know where these parents are coming from.

Parent of students in grades 11 and 12 are members of Generation X.  They’re the ones that are skeptical about everything institutional and traditional.  As evidenced from the above conversation, they will pay for quality, AND they will pay for “an experience.”  Therefore, the first  question you have to ask yourself is, “Is there something that’s affecting their perception of the quality of our school?”

Most of the parents in your school’s community are now members of the Millennial Generation.  They think about “us” rather than “me,” but their “us” isn’t necessarily their neighborhood (although sometimes it is).  Their “us” is the “groups” they belong to, driven by social media and like-mindedness (think about that word for a moment in terms of social media, and in terms of mindsets).  Therefore, what you really have isn’t “us” as we’ve traditionally defined it.  It used to be that “us” worked together and sacrificed for one another for the greater good.  Now, “us” is a group of “me”s that have commonalities.  If someone thinks differently, they’re not “like us.”

And that’s what companies today want too – every one of them asks to “Like Us” on Facebook and other social media platforms.

And those parents are like the Generation X parents that will pay for “experiences” too!

The other thing you must do is, as the title of this article says, “Listen differently.”  At first hearing, you may think that these comments are complaints about your tuition.  However, these parents could afford a cruise and a new luxury automobile.  And they’re not saying that this tuition is high…they just don’t know how much longer they can keep paying it – especially with all the talk about recession.

If your school has experienced enrollment growth over the past few years as a result of new policies being enacted in public schools, or perhaps the in-person instruction your school offered during the pandemic, that may be the reason these parents came to your school, but the experience of your school is what’s going to keep them there.

Research has shown that the parents who left due to the pandemic are not the parents who are enrolling their children in grade levels through out the school.  Further, while there has been an enrollment increase in many faith-based schools, there are some schools who are still struggling with enrollment growth because they needed to follow the public school’s transportation schedule, or were aligned with what the local health department advised.

Sadly, when these parents disenrolled their students, that made the cost per student increase, and tuition may have been increased to cover expenses if there were not an abundance of students to fill those desks.

Then there’s the tuition figure itself.  Today, ANY four or five-digit number is hard to swallow.  Take for example the new iPhones.  A question recently asked was, “Would you pay $1,200 for the new iPhone?”  People thought that was outrageous!  However, it all depends on your usage.  Over 2 years (365 x 2 = 730 days), that means you’ll pay $1.64 a day to use your phone (plus dataplan expenses, but you’ll have that with whatever device you use).  Now, think of that coffee that people buy every day for about $4 where the barista asks for your name to be put on your coffee cup.

Besides, if the mobile communication and computing device (it’s way more than a phone) had a cost $795, that’s about $1.09 a day.  So, for only 55 cents more per day, you can have the latest and greatest!

So listening differently is important, but so is responding differently.  Posting your tuition schedule on your school’s Web site may be done so in the spirit of transparency and convenience, but how many parents are actually paying full tuition at your school?  How many parents that do the math which results in a high four or five digit figure for their 2 or 3 children actually call your school for a tour? How many simply never call?  Take your four-digit tuition and divide it by the number of hours required by the state to be considered a school year.  In Pennsylvania, for example, that number is 990.  $4800 translates to $4.85 an hour.

In taking a look at a popular daycare center’s Web site, there’s a button that says “Tuition and Openings.”  When you click it, it opens a form so you can request more information and schedule a tour!  It invites parents and their children to experience the school before they decide what it’s worth.

That’s the same way they got that new luxury car, too.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2022 (Original Publication Date: 20071001)