This time around, we focus on the “E” aspect of ARMED Framework (which is, by the way, the DREAM Framework, revisited) – “Enrollment.” In more and more of the schools I speak with and read about, many say that all their difficulties center on two things: increasing expenses and declining enrollment. At this time of year, schools have wrapped up the previous fiscal year, and are finding they have uncollected tuition, or expenses have surpassed the income they projected for the year…not to mention the toll that COVID-19 has taken on unemployed parents or schools who still expected parents to bring checks to a closed school building.
But not every school.
A few years ago at this time, I received an email from one school I closely worked with stating they finally finished a school year in the black. What’s outstanding about this is that they did this for the first time in many years, AND they did it in a year where economic conditions were the worst this nation had seen.
They had an enrollment system, made sure their parent and child experience was an exceptional one, marketed their school to their community, and put a development program in place. Not only did it cultivate major gifts, but they moved into planned giving!
The point is that they discovered it’s not all about the money. It’s not even all about the enrollment. It’s really all about ALL five of the elements of Advancement working together at the same time – but let’s just chat about enrollment this week.
So here’s a little quiz: As a school administrator, if someone asked, “What would you rather have…10 more students, or $10,000?” what would your response be?
If your mindset is that “It’s all about the money,” then I’m sure the cash would be your first instinct.
However, may I suggest that 10 more students may be the preferred answer. First, it fulfills the mission of the school, and bringing more people in to your school’s community can certainly foster ministry goals. Second, the $10,000 cash would, in most cases, go towards balancing the budget, which means no real significant improvement in the financial situation of the school. Third, if your school’s tuition is $4,000 per child, 10 children that could pay an average of $1000 each is $10,000. Some may not be able to afford that, but some may be able to pay more, and one or two might even be able to pay the tuition in full! Fourth, new students represent renewable revenue. If the children return each year, that adds not only to your enrollment’s bottom line, but your fiscal one too. That $10,000 gift is more than likely a “one-and-deal” (although some school leaders “hope” that the donor will continue to provide that level of support year after year, and provides further proof that “hope,” while it springs eternal and is one of the three things that last, is NOT a strategy for sustainability). Fifth, it means that more families will be involved in your school community, which is also important to its long-term viability, and, if their experience is an excellent one, they will become evangelists for your school.
Chances are that if you have ten parents who want their children to come your school, you could say to them, “Our tuition is $4,000 for the first child…” etc. But, if you say, “Our announced tuition is $4,000, but the average tuition is $2,200 per child because of scholarships and financial aid. Over a 10 month period, that comes to $220 a month, which is about $11 a day. Some of our parents pay more depending on their blessings, but some pay less than that too. By the way, if you’re used to paying for childcare, our $4,000 tuition comes to about $22 a day without financial help. And that’s only about $4 an hour.”
Unfortunately, many schools do not use that type of verbiage when talking about their tuition. In fact, their full tuition schedule is posted on their Web site. Today, posting your tuition on your Web site is a GREAT way to lead your school toward closure. A recent survey conducted by yours truly showed schools that do not publish their tuition schedule on their web sites are split right down the middle when it comes to enrollment growth – the same number that have seen increases have seen decreases over past three years. However, for schools that DO publish their tuition schedule on their Web site, 70% have seen an enrollment decrease over the previous three years.
Why is this? Parents who are interested in your school for their children’s education will take one look at your school’s Web site, navigate to the tuition schedule and say to themselves, “I can’t afford this,” and you’ve lost them before you even get them in your door! If something costs 4 or 5 five figures, EVERYONE’S first instinct is “payment plan.” After all, when you bought your last mobile phone, did you realize it cost almost, or even more than, $1,000? Or were you excited that it would only be $35 a month…”And that’s just a little more than a dollar a day.” THIS is the way you need to communicate your tuition to prospective families. If you’d like to know why tuition was suggested to be posted to your school’s Web site when your school first got a Web site in the early 2000’s, send an email to me by visiting this link, and put the words “Why Was Tuition Put On Websites” in the subject line.
Sales professionals today know that the environment of commerce has changed thanks to the Internet. Today, if you want to buy something, the Internet is now the world’s marketplace. If someone knows what they’re looking for, they go to the Internet, check out Amazon, Ebay, or some of their other favorite sites, then either order it, or may visit a local store to get more details, and then go back home and order it. Or, the more prevalent trend is they’ll find out more about in the store, and while they’re there, pull out their mobile device and order it so it’s shipped to their home! Current research has discovered if someone enters a retail facility such as Best Buy or a car dealership, the sales process is already 70% complete. What you, as a school administrator, need to know today is that Enrollment = Sales. The processes are the exactly the same, as demonstrated by the funnels that track “prospects.” When families want to visit your school, they’re not coming in as a blank page; they’ve done research by looking for your school on online school rating sites, asked their friends and neighbors about your school, and they’ve visited your school’s Web site. If they like what they see and hear, they’ll come by to check it out. But if your school’s Web site looks outdated, that means your school must be outdated too.
Until just a couple of years ago, there was a slight uptick in enrollment in faith-based schools. Today, I’m hearing of more schools closing again because of enrollment and financial concerns, and, frankly, it upsets me. Repeatedly, I hear, “There’s very little we can do about the economy and changing demographics. And now, COVID-19 has changed EVERYTHING!” While that’s true, and the financial difficulties brought about by COVID-19 are real, it’s not the underlying reason why schools have been closing. The real reason deals with mindsets, and the failure to realize that families and processes are different today than they were 20, 10, even 5 years ago. Unfortunately, when someone on the school’s staff says, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” (TTWWADI), they’re really saying, “We’re not interested in accommodating today’s parents.” What that really says is that a school administrator is “comfortable” with the ways they’re currently doing things and just really doesn’t want to change – even if it will make things more efficient. Why? Because if things are more efficient for the employee, than the employee can do more things that they don’t have time to do right now! All it means is more work for the employee – not only learning a new system, but once it’s learned, then doing even MORE things for not a lot more pay nor recognition. If this sounds familiar, or because it may have not crossed your mind, this is why businesses can’t find employees today. The pandemic has made people realize there’s more than work that’s important in life – like spending time with family and friends that may not be here “someday” in the future. Even people that have been working at their jobs for 10 years and were considered “essential” employees are now finding that they’re being asked to do even more work and work longer shifts because half of the staff have left because of the increasing responsibilities of their job. Why do I mention this? Your teachers may be some of those employees.
Now is the time to realize that the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is now DEAD, at it’s the phrase that will continue to cause downward trends in your school’s enrollment. While tradition is important, especially the richness and beauty of one’s faith’s tradition, technology has a pervasive impact in every aspect of our lives today, and education is not immune from these shifts.
If you want to post your tuition on your Web site, just tell parents what it comes down to per hour. DO NOT publish a 4 or 5-figure tuition amount. For instance, if your tuition is $3500 per year, consider that children are in school about 990 hours per school year. That’s $3.54 per hour. Note the effect of a price increase of $500 per child, where tuition becomes $4000 per student. $4000 divided by 990 is $4.04. Fifty cents an hour has a little different ring to it than five hundred dollars per year.
While 20 years ago, the market had difficulty with 3-digit numbers (who would pay $800 for a phone back then?), today, the market has difficulty with 4 and 5-digit numbers. Some parents have said that $400 per month over 10 months is difficult for them to pay, but since they get paid twice a month, they could pay $200 per paycheck. As strange as that may sound, giving parents this type of payment option is actually helping families afford a faith-based education for their children.
As for the tool to assist in your efforts for enrollment success, it’s still FREE! Visit the SchoolAdvancement Web site at https://schooladvancement.com/?page_id=495. You can read about BASIQS there, then hover over “ENROLLMENT” in the menu at the top of the page, and check the drop-down menus for the resources and instructions.
Let’s capitalize on the tech-savvy generation of parents checking out your school this summer. Offer a video tour of your school on your school’s Web site, and be prepared to demonstrate how you’re maintaining a truly safe and caring environment. That means not only caring for the children – that means caring about the parents and how they think. After all, they’re the ones who are paying for their child’s experiences. Further, this is also where small school have a supreme opportunity to grow their schools AND offer social distancing in the classroom! While this month is an awesome time to rest, refresh and re-energize for the coming school year, let’s add another “R” – Remember. History shows us that many successful ventures began in difficult economic times. May the sum of your ventures and your summer adventures be safe and abundantly blessed!
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021