Do You Want to Build Your School’s Enrollment? – Part 2

It’s pretty safe to say that the majority of faith-based schools across the country have welcomed students into the classroom to being the 2015-2016 school year.  Now it’s time to start planning for the 2016-2017  school year!

However, you’re still going to get parents that are interested in enrolling their children in your school.  When I worked for an office that coordinated 20 schools, this is the time of year I’d get phone calls from parents who wanted to enroll their child, but was told by office personnel at the school they would have to pay the full cost of tuition since there were no financial aid funds left.  It that conversation still happens at your school today, that means that your school is full to the gills with children, and you have waiting lists for each grade.

No?

Enrollment can only grow if children are enrolled.  How can you increase enrollment if children are being turned away?  Even if you have “no aid” left to give, a new child enrolling into the school is “found” revenue.  This may require a change in thinking, shifting from a “financial aid” mindset to a “revenue stream” mindset.

Here are a couple of scenarios to illustrate:

Scenario 1: “There is no more aid” – While this may be true, stating this to just one parent will eventually cause your enrollment “funnel” to shut down since parents talk to parents.  Instead, look at it this way.  Johnny Smith’s parents has “0” ability to pay as reported by your financial aid assessment partner, yet his parents are willing to pay $1000. If you enroll the child, that’s $1000 that you didn’t have before he walked in the door.  Next year, he becomes part of the financial aid process, and then can be awarded “real” aid dollars. Turn the student away in September and you’re defeating the whole purpose of building enrollment for your school.

WARNING: Once again, this is for NEW students – they might have moved here from another state, transferred by a company so that dad can start his new job, etc.  Doing this for ALL students will send the wrong message to current parents, that they can apply for aid at any time, and the “deadline” for aid doesn’t matter.  Returning students applying after the deadline should be awarded aid on a first-come first-served basis with whatever aid is remaining. Those who choose not to apply for aid are obviously risking the consequence of paying the full amount because they are familiar with and aware of your tuition policies.

Caveat 1) Don’t count your full pay families until they’re hatched – ESPECIALLY in our current economic climate!   Your full pays from last year may turn into aid applicants, and upfront payers may become monthly payers. To be fair, even thought they are “returning parents,” DO allow them to apply for aid just as you would a new parent, since, in reality, they are new to the aid process. However, if they were part of your school community in the previous school year, and you’re counting them as a full pay simply because they have registered and have not filled out a financial aid application, you are doing your school a disservice.

Caveat 2) Payment method. “I’ll pay you when I can” is a big reason why schools are closing today.  A contribution is a gift; tuition is an obligation.  All parents should have at least 3 options when paying tuition – Full tuition due before the school year begins; half before school begins, and half due January 1; or monthly auto-withdrawal or online invoicing (yes, just like colleges do).  All tuition payments should be handled by a third-party for payment security, parent convenience, and real-time reporting.  I recommend FACTS for three reasons:  One, I work for the company, but more importantly, I chose to work for them, because I’ve seen the company’s success with the schools I used to work with.  Two, FACTS’ business model recommends direct debit because it’s the most successful way to get tuition to your school.  There are no late fees, and follow-up is included.  If there are NSF fees, parents are held accountable for them, rather than charging your school a returned payment fee which happens if you accept checks at your school.  Even if your school chooses to apply a late fee, your school keeps the late fee as an additional revenue stream and has full control over it.  Three, doing so helps you stop chasing unpaid tuition and start chasing new students to enroll in your school.

All payments going through a tuition management provider avoids: checks sitting in a drawer – or worse, on a desk – or even worse, cash in a drawer; multiple trips to the bank; parents asking for receipts; potential for fraud; etc.   It’s a risk-mitigating benefit to the school, saving on all the accounting time, and bringing in a steady cash flow for good financial management.  It also can help the parents develop responsible payment habits.

Scenario 2: “Miss Jennifer Jackson has withdrawn” – The parents of Miss Jennifer Jackson were returning parents, went through the financial aid process, and were only going to pay $1200, receiving $2600 in aid for a $3800 tuition bill. If the child leaves the school, the school is losing only $1200 in revenue. However, if the awarded aid is reallocated to existing parents, the school has actually lost THE ENTIRE $3800.  What SHOULD happen is that this $2600 is reserved by the school to use for either new students coming in or reserved as additional income for the school. If you REALLY need to use it (as in, if you don’t use it, you lose it – which may happen in some state-funded scholarship situations), then perhaps use it as a source for those “end of the summer” appeals.

These methodologies are key to increasing and maintaining enrollment, as well as generating a positive cash flow from your tuition revenues.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2015 (Original Publication Date: 20050829)