Last week’s Marketing Matters article outlined a four-step program to begin a relationship with parents of newly Baptized children in the parishes or churches that support your school. This week, I promised to offer a tip on what to do if you already have a Pre-K program, and you’re including those parents in your “regular” parent-teacher meetings and encouraging them to be a part of your school community – but they’re still not enrolling in your Kindergarten.
First, you need to be honest with yourself and your practices. Are you really including them in your regular parent events, treating them as if they were parents and guardians with children enrolled in your K-5, 6 or 8 school? Many schools consider Pre-K to be a separate service to parents since the children are in school only a few days a week, or, if they’re there every day, it’s only for a limited amount of time.
If you’re really and truly reaching out to parents and guardians, and including them in all your community-building activities and events, then we need to look at three things – fundraising, market pricing, and the competition.
Involve your pre-school parents in it…even if they’re paying the full-cost of the Pre-K program. Remember that fundraising is not a Development strategy, since Development is long-term oriented and fundraising is short-term oriented. Fundraising is part of Retention since it builds community within your school. I must say that when I think of fundraising, I think of car washes, spaghetti dinners, nights at the races and the like. It’s where people involved in the school work together to involve the community.
I know lots of folks think of fundraising and think of selling cookie dough, popcorn and wrapping paper. While those activities do require people outside the family to buy those products, in difficult economic times, these are the first things are eliminated from the families’, neighbors’ and co-workers’ budgets. Unless the sale is of a “signature” product for which the school has built a reputation, then consider this question: Would you really want your kids going door to door to sell magazine subscriptions? If your answer is, “No, just tell me what I have to pay and I’ll pay it,” then increase your tuition by that amount and be done with it. Forget charging the “Development Fee.” If you state that it is a fee, then it must somehow be paid. Since it is a stated fee, it’s not tax-deductible. However, if you request a contribution over and above tuition and fees, then it may be tax-deductible (check with your local tax professional before instituting such a program).
I know of a school that has more children in its Pre-K program than it does in their K-8 program. Why? Because the average cost of their half-day Pre-K program is $1,000 per year, while their K-8 tuition is over $4,000 per year. If your school’s Pre-K program is a half-day program, and your regular school tuition is $4000, then the Pre-K tuition should be $2,000 per year. When I suggested this to the school, they said, “But we’ll lose half of our Pre-K enrollment!” Yes, but doesn’t $1,000 x 200 = $2,000 x 100? Plus, half the number of students may not require the same number of teachers, saving you money, and you can create a waiting list which always spurs even more interest.
The bottom line, however, is what happens when that child is ready to move from Pre-K 4 to K. Parents have to decide if they’re going to make the quantum leap from $1,000 per year to $4,000 per year. Guess what most are going to decide?
I know of another school that charged $700 for their all-day 2 day-per-week program, and $900 for their all-day 3 day-per-week program, and their Kindergarten tuition was over $4,000 per year. They said that their program was competitively priced with other daycare programs in the area. It’s important to remember that Pre-K is not daycare. Your Pre-K program needs to be remarkable, just as your K-5, 6 or 8 program is remarkable, providing an excellent experience at an excellent value. For this school, increasing the tuition from $700 to $2,000 per year and the $900 to $3,000 per year would set the school for a streamlined and value-priced progression from Pre-K into Kindergarten. Would schools have to have the same conversations they have with K-5, 6 or 8 parents? Yes. Would financial aid have to be offered? Yes. Is that congruent with treating Pre-K parents the same way you treat parents of children in grades K-5, 6 or 8? Yes.
Since we started talking about the competition in the previous section, let’s look at the other extreme regarding other Pre-K programs in the surrounding area. One school I had worked with told me, “Oh, they do such a great job, and we don’t want to hurt them.” Let me just ask this question – if it came down to taking students away from them, or closing your school because there aren’t enough Kindergarten registrations, which would you choose?
You can certainly work collaboratively. If that Pre-K that does a great job doesn’t recommend your elementary school program, then develop a relationship with them so they will. If they refuse because of a myriad of reasons they can come up with, then you might consider some ways to get those parents to your Pre-K program before you lose the opportunity.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20100719)