Financial Aid Can Be a Powerful Marketing Tool For Your School

Scripture tells us, “To everything, there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  You may know it from the song from the 1960’s by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

As applied to financial aid, there is a time to apply, and a time to award.

This Fall, my youngest enters her senior year of college.  Besides coming to the end of a long stretch of tuition payments, I’m looking forward to January 2015.  Why?  It will be the first year in 10 years that I do not have to complete a FAFSA form so that my children may apply for financial aid.  But elementary school and high school is different, right?  Today, I’m not so sure of that.  Faith-based and private school education can be a significant expense, and some K-12 institutions have tuitions that are significantly higher than some higher education options.

When I administered the financial aid program for 18 elementary schools, our applications were due on March 15th so that we could make financial aid decisions by April 1st, and notify parents of their awards by April 15.  Doing so helped to solidify enrollment.  Further, because I used FACTS as our third-party financial information processor, I was also able to calculate a potential award for parents that were interesting in enrolling their children, but wanted to know if they could afford the tuition before committing to enrolling their children in one of our schools.  By having that type of control of the process, I was able to determine an estimated award quickly, rather than having to wait until the family had all their tax verification submitted before their data was even processed.  Today, some enrollment directors I know have had this same experience, making estimates faster, and therefore, helping to grow their school’s enrollment.

If the goal of marketing for enrollment is to increase the number inquires from parents and guardians of prospective students to the school, then how those inquires are handled via a school’s enrollment process determines if enrollment will increase.  A financial aid discussion is usually a part of that enrollment process.  A parent may contact a school because of the recommendation of one of their friends whose children are enrolled at the school, or they visit the school’s Web site to discover more information about it.  If your school’s Web site has your tuition schedule listed, it also probably states that financial aid is available, and may even list some funds that have been begun by generous benefactors of the school from which aid is available.  By marketing your financial aid resources, you may receive requests for tours and appointments to meet the kindergarten teacher, creating hope for the family that they’ll be able to afford the excellent educational environment your school offers.

So let’s say a family hears great things about your school, visits your schools’ Web site, likes the virtual tour video, looks at the tuition page and sees the potential for financial aid, calls your school to set an appointment for a tour, is impressed with the kindergarten teacher’s enthusiasm, and applies for admission and financial aid.  The parent receives a letter from your school that their child has been accepted, and the next steps of enrollment include signing on for a payment plan.  The parent becomes concerned, however, when they don’t see that financial aid has been awarded, and when they call the school, you tell them that the scholarship organization that makes awards at your school will only notify parents of their awards, if they receive any aid at all, several months after the first tuition payment is due.  What would you as a parent do?

Indeed, financial aid can be a powerful marketing tool for your school, but only if your school has control over the process, and can make awards (even if they’re only estimates) to families before payments for the next school year begin.  While a new generation of parents, the Millennials, are starting to enroll their children in school, Generation X are still the predominant generation of parents in your school.  They don’t like to wait, they don’t like surprise, and they want options.  If you don’t provide any, more than likely, they’ll create their own options, one of which may be disenrolling their children.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014 (Original Publication Date: 20140721)