When does your school begin its financial aid application process? I know that some schools start it in October – for the school year that’s already underway! That’s probably a little too late if you’re trying to grow your school’s enrollment. If your school is starting tuition payments in July or August, then financial aid needs to be calculated and offered prior to that time.

Now let’s jump to the other extreme. There are some schools that start their process in November for the school year that starts the following July, but will process a financial aid application before children are accepted to the school. After all, there are parents that want to know how much their tuition will be before even considering coming to the school for a tour. This is also the wrong time to talk about financial aid.

If your school begins its financial aid process before a student is accepted, that usually means the most important consideration in the parent’s mind is a financial one, rather than determining if the educational experience is a good fit for their child.

This leads to the realization that it’s important to talk about your acceptance process, tuition, and financial aid and scholarship with the proper terms. There’s a Chinese proverb that says “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” So, as educators, we need to do that.

It’s “Application,” not “Registration” for new students; it’s “Financial Aid and Scholarship,” not just “Financial Aid,” and definitely not “Tuition Assistance.” Let’s take a look at each of those terms.

“Registration” means that a student has already been accepted, regardless of student need, physical or financial. A registration process is great for returning students, but not for new students. An application process is necessary. Otherwise, you may end up “accepting” a student that you find you cannot accommodate. This may have been an acceptable way of operating back in the days of the parochial school, but not today. Some schools are also finding that if they register everyone that wants to be a part of the school, much of their faith identity can be lost.  They may also discover there’s no way parents can collectively pay whatever tuition is necessary to keep the school operational.

It’s also important to be able to apply for “Financial Aid” and “Scholarship.” Schools that advertise that they only have funds for “Financial Aid” create the inference that those who apply have financial need, expecting those with an ability to pay will gladly do so. When you’re dealing with parents that belong to Generation X, that’s not necessarily the case. However, you can offer scholarships to those students that have no financial need, yet excel academically. Just make sure it’s part of your school’s financial policy to do so.

Why not use the term “Tuition Assistance” to cover both? After all, since any funds allocated to families assist them with their tuition obligation, then you’ve got it covered, right? This may be true, but you have a “tuition assistance” program, and you have an inference there as well.  “Tuition Assistance” has a different meaning than “Financial Aid.”  Financial Aid is funding that goes to reduce the amount of tuition a parent pays, but tuition assistance assists parents with their tuition obligation, and can include a tuition payment plan provider program, scrip, and any other programs you may have in place. “Tuition Assistance” can also cover tuition reduction if you have no financial aid funds to award.  Therefore, your overall program provides “Tuition Assistance;”  it’s not something you award.

This brings up another issue, too.  Tuition reduction is a plan you can follow when you don’t have a pot of financial aid or scholarship to award. It’s usual use, however, is as “subsidy” or “investment” for a Catholic school student that’s a member of the parish that sponsors the school. What’s wrong with that? It gives parents a false sense of what an education at your school really costs. If you’ve “Always done it that way,” and your enrollment is decreasing, now’s the time to start thinking differently, and eventually, “do” differently.

If you must publish tuition, rather than publishing a “Catholic rate,” an “Out of Parish rate” and a “Non-Catholic rate,” state the tuition, which could even be the cost of education at your school. Then, provide a “Catholic Scholarship” in the amount to bring it to that “Catholic rate.” You can also set up other types of scholarships to do the same.

Why do it this way? The fact of the matter is that a four-digit number is a four-digit number. It doesn’t matter if a tuition is $1,900 or $3,500 or $6,525. Four digits are perceived to be “big numbers.”  The key is that parents become aware of the cost of education. If they’re charged only $1,900, they think that an education at your school only costs $1,900. When parents see they’re receiving something, however, it’s a motivator. The more they receive, the more interested they’ll be. Is is automatic? No. Parents have to apply for it. Why? Because you’re going to have to verify they are a member of the parish, a neighboring parish, or a sponsoring church. If no application is made, then the assumption is made that the parent is willing to pay the full cost of education.

Next month, we’ll take a look at how to talk about that four-digit (or five-digit) number known as tuition.