Leaders of faith-based schools know the drill all too well: parents show interest in your school, pay their non-refundable registration fee, and then their child doesn’t show up for the first day of school.

How can you ensure those families maintain enthusiasm for your school over the summer?

Moreover, how do you keep families currently enrolled in your school from bailing over the summer, and, keep them enrolled in the school?

Assign current parents in your school the role of ambassador to mentor a new family.

Their job is to be a guide to the new family, preparing them for what to expect throughout the summer and throughout the school year, and then can keep in contact with them.  It’s a great way to build community for your school, since very few parents today know the real meaning of community.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Community” as

  • A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common: or
  • A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

But that’s not how today’s parents see a community.

Their community resides on their phone.  It’s their Facebook friends, or people they Instagram and Snapchat with.

Today’s parents see their community as what other have in common with them…not necessarily what they have in common with others.  It’s more like having a “community of individuals” rather than having a “community.”

Mentor families are symbiotic: If a family in your school’s current parent community has a task to mentor a new family, it will make the current family less likely to leave because they have a significant role to play in the continued life of the school. It will also make the new family less likely to leave since they know someone at the school who can introduce them to other members of the school community.

While you can develop some kind of training for potential mentor families, perhaps the best strategy is to let them be themselves. The actions they come up will then be authentic rather than feel scripted.

Sound too simplistic?

Try it.  It works.

A community my wife and I belonged to when we were first married helped prepare engaged couples for marriage.  If we didn’t have our mentor couple (which were called “prayer couples”), we wouldn’t have lasted very long because the work we were assigned to do was difficult!  This couple called us to see how we were doing, and then invited us to their house to share dinner and a movie.  We met their family; they met ours.  Since this was a group of people that had a ministry to the engaged, they helped us to remain “engaged” with the community!  Several years later when I was out of work and my wife was a stay-at-home mom, it was this community that sustained us through prayer, support and even a meal that appeared on our doorstep several times!

Along with Mentor Families, here are three more ways to retain families, making sure students show up on the first day of school:

1) If you have a non-refundable registration fee, make it a 3-digit one.  Parents will walk away from a $25 or $60 registration fee.  That’s called dinner at a restaurant.  $175?  $250? That’s a little more difficult to walk away from.  And if families say they can’t afford that, then how are they going to afford the $500+ per month tuition payment they will be expected to pay throughout the year?

2) Roll your registration fee into your tuition, and then payment #1 of 10 is your registration fee, making your tuition payable in 9 payments.  That way, in-full payers don’t pay the registration fee – but it’s due before the end of the current school year, before the next school year begins.  Frankly, THIS is the way that every faith-based schools should be operating today!

3) Collect your registration fee in January, February or March, but start tuition payments in April or May with a maximum 9 month payment plan.

While these are not strategies that can be implemented overnight, it is possible.  If you’d like to know how to get started, send an email to [email protected] and put “3 digit registration and 9 months tuition” in the subject line.  One Catholic school in West Virginia did it over a decade ago, and they still have over 400 students enrolled!!

If you’re thinking, “But we’ve never done it that way,” you’ll know you’re on the right track, since “But we’ve always done it this way” leads down one of two paths – one which follows the Law of Diminishing Returns (exerting more and more effort simply to maintain the status quo), or one that leads to declining enrollment…and we all know where that one ends up.

And today, in our new “Post-Covidian” era, you’re not going to be able to do the things the way you’ve always done them, so now is the acceptable time to start to make all things new!  And how appropriate that Pentecost is just around the corner!

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2024