In 1993, I started working for an automobile retailer. That statement may not have an impact now, but it did back then. At that time, every other place that sold cars was called a “dealership,” the person that owned it was the “dealer,” and car buyers could boast about the “deal” they got on their car. The car that our “retailer” sold was a Saturn – “A different kind of company; a different kind of car.” The car was different because it was made of rolled galvanized steel (like a racecar’s rollcage) covered by polymer dent-resistant side panels. The company was different because workers had a labor agreement that was different from every other auto worker’s contract, empowering them to make decisions if they saw problems on the assembly line. Retailers chose to sell the car at the sticker price so that everyone got “the same best deal” as their friends and neighbors, adhering to “Trust and Respect for the Individual” as one of the 5 Saturn Values. While the company struggled to turn a profit, the popularity of the car surged to the point that owners would travel to Spring Hill, Tennessee to see where their car was made. At the risk of sounding redundant, it was “the difference” which made the difference.
Twenty years later, thanks in large part to the Internet, most car buying research can be done online today. When a buyer is ready to buy, they’re prepared with all the information they need to get the car they’re looking for.
But lets go back to the 1990’s. Twenty five years ago, there was a new piece of technology that helped some of the sales consultants with whom I worked to record information about their customers. This piece of technology cost several thousand dollars, and was called a “laptop” computer which connected to the Internet via a dial-up phone line. Also during that time, there were mobile telephones available, but they were size of bricks. They certainly did not fit in one’s pocket, nor did they store music nor take photographs.
How far we’ve come in just 25 years! But, there are still folks that stick to the “tried and true” methods that are 20 or more years old because TTWWADI: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Unfortunately, most of the “tried and true” methods are no longer effective.
Why? Because 20 years is the span of a generation. About 21 years ago, Generation X, the “Me” Generation, began to enroll their children in faith-based schools. 20 years before that time (which would be 41 years ago), members of The Silent Generation were enrolling the last of the Baby Boomers in high school. My parents enrolled me in a Catholic high school in 1974, and in order to be able to afford the tuition (there was no “financial aid” then), dad took a second part-time job, and mom worked full-time. They knew that if tuition wasn’t paid, I wouldn’t be permitted to attend classes. Their payment was an “obligation” that they were responsible for. It was my responsibility as a student to do well in school. That was the “agreement” between my parents and me.
Let’s look at Catholic schools in particular. The “slide” in Catholic school enrollment began in the early 1970’s. Students that entered elementary school during that time entered high school around 1985, and a couple of years later, the tuition collection difficulties prompted companies to come into being specifically to offer schools tuition payment services to parents.
And yet, today, there are still schools that prepare paper invoices, send them home, and expect that parents will pay them, only to be “surprised” at the conclusion of every school year when they discover a six-figure receivables amount in tuition due to the school. Tuition is then increased the following year to compensate for uncollected tuition, as well as rising expenses, which causes parents to disenroll their children. Note that no school ever closes due to holding on to outmoded practices, but rather cite declining enrollment, shifting demographics causing a smaller pool from which to enroll students, and continuing economic hardships.
It’s worth noting that “declining enrollment” is usually thought to be an “enrollment” problem, but it’s actually a “retention” problem. Enrollment can decline even when “first year” student enrollment is equal to or even exceeds the number of students graduating from the school.
There’s a story that’s told about a researcher who put 5 monkeys in a cage, along with a ladder, and hung bananas at the top of the ladder. When the first monkey climbed the ladder to get the bananas, it was showered with a forceful stream of water. The same thing happened when each of the monkeys attempted to climb the ladder. Then, one at a time, the monkeys were replaced with other monkeys, and as the new monkey attempted to climb the ladder, the remaining monkeys stopped him from climbing before being doused with water. One by one, all the original monkeys were replaced, and none attempted to climb the ladder…even though they were never sprayed.
While the story seems to be an exaggeration of an experiment that was actually conducted, it’s usually used to illustrate how ineffective processes could simply be perpetuated because of new staffers being trained by current employees.
How does this apply to schools today? Consider these practices:
– Awarding financial aid to parents only after school begins, so that parents do not know what their financial aid package will be prior to agreeing to paying tuition;
– Collecting the first tuition payment in September because that’s when the school year begins;
– Deferring all tuition until Spring based on the parent’s commitment to pay their tuition with their income tax refund…even though there’s no way of knowing if they’re going to receive a refund, especially with the new tax law;
– Not offering parents payment methods and plans that are convenient for them; and
– Accepting checks at school. Why is that not a secure method of payment today? Because banking account numbers are written at the bottom of the check, and today, account numbers could be considered to be personal information that needs to be protected.
And then there are those schools that contract with a tuition management provider that charges fee to the parent when a follow-up phone call is made to the parent because their payment wasn’t “posted” to the account by the due date. While the parent may contend that they paid their obligation before the due date, the terms they agreed to says the payment will be posted to the account…which means it must be received, deposited and cleared before it’s posted to the account. Punishing a family when they are paying their tuition? That’s a GREAT way to watch your school’s enrollment decline!