There are many Christian parents who have chosen to prioritize their family over their career. Most of them end up paying for this decision by having to live with a lower income than they could earn if their priorities were more worldly. Quite frankly, these are the families I would want in my Christian school.
We have found that in the majority of Christian schools usually only about 15% of their families make under $50,000 per year. Yet in the typical community in the US over half of the community’s families make under $50,000.
In other words, many of those committed lower-income Christian families don’t send their children to our schools. Perhaps by giving more attention to your tuition assistance program, you could change that statistic for your school.
After surveying tens of thousands of parents and working with hundreds of schools in nearly every state of the US, we would make a few recommendations to help your Christian school tuition assistance program, and perhaps help you use your tuition assistance funds more efficiently.
1) Do not give over 50% to anyone, including employees. If the services you offer have value, they’re worth paying for.
We have found that when tuition exceeds 7-10% of a family’s net income it becomes more difficult to pay. If your tuition is average for the US, about $10,000, then it is out of reach for nearly half of your community’s families.
If you give a family a 50% scholarship, this reduces their tuition to $5,000 per year for one child. This brings your tuition within reach of about 85% of your community’s families. You could reach even more with creative ways to provide even more subsidy for families making under $35,000.
With regards to employees - unless your salaries are so low that you have to subsidize salaries with free tuition for your employees we would suggest that the maximum you give to employees is also 50%.
What about exceptions? There will always be exceptions. We recommend that exceptions to this rule be made only in response to a written request presented to the committee by the family. The committee can then make a decision based on the facts they have gathered, but that exceptions should be limited to one year at a time. The committee’s decision should be documented and placed in the family file.
2) Scale back on multiple-child discounts.
One school was like many others in the US. They provided hefty multiple-child discounts. Then one day a mother came in and said, “Here’s a check for the difference – I don’t need a discount, and it’s not right for me to take it.”
There seems to be some psychological advantage to giving discounts. That’s why we shop at Sam’s or COSTCO. We believe that if we buy by the case we should get it cheaper. But we would suggest that allowing a third or fourth child to attend for free only hurts the school financially and makes you seem like a discount warehouse.
A 5-8% maximum would be a more reasonable discount. Then the families who truly find it hard to afford a Christian education for their children can apply for tuition assistance, and receive it – based on their actual financial situation. We subscribe that this is a much more cost-effective way to deal with tuition.
3) Budget tuition assistance based on a percentage of tuition income rather than a dollar amount.
When a dollar amount is used, and the dollars are all gone, then the Administrator or the individual responsible for recruitment must go back to the board for more money. If the budget is based on a percentage of tuition income, then the higher the enrollment, the more money is available for tuition assistance. This gives the recruiter much more freedom in using tuition assistance in recruiting new families.
What’s a reasonable percentage? The average school in the US gives away about 12-15% of their tuition income. There are two targets for tuition assistance funds to keep in mind when trying to determine how much is enough.
Current Families. How much is enough to retain your current families? 6-10% is probably adequate. You could begin planning with your current percentage, and increase that percentage every time you increase tuition, because every time tuition increases, a larger number of families will need help paying it.
Prospective Families. If you desire to use tuition assistance as a recruitment tool, then you will need to venture into the 10-15% range, depending upon how high your tuition is and how many lower-income families you want to reach. Keep in mind that the average family applying for tuition assistance will need 33-50% of their tuition paid.
4) Require students to meet behavioral and academic standards to continue receiving tuition assistance.
By tying the continuation of tuition assistance to behavioral and academic standards you quickly erase the complaint that tuition assistance funds only attract undesirable students. This also gives you leverage in dealing with tough situations in which the families are also on assistance.
5) Consider creative ways to raise funds designated for scholarship or tuition assistance.
It’s okay if tuition assistance moneys come out of your budget (whether they appear as a tuition discount, or appear as an actual credit to a family’s account). Most schools do it that way.
However, if you are giving away 12-15% of your tuition income as tuition assistance, and then raising that same percentage through fund raisers to subsidize your budget, you may find fundraising much easier if the appeal is for scholarships rather than for general expenditures.
6) Use a committee of 3-5 to make tuition assistance decisions, (not the administrator and not the board).
In a recent survey, we learned that it is not at all unusual for an administrator to make tuition assistance decisions on his own – and in many cases in the presence of the families. This may not be the most prudent course of action. This opens the administrator up to potential complaints when families feel that there have been inequities - especially if the inequity means that they pay more than their friend pays.
It is much cleaner and more professional to utilize a committee to make these decisions. Then the administrator can distance himself or herself from the financial portion of the family’s decision. Not only does this appear to be more professional to the families, it also relieves the administrator of one more task that he/she does not have to do.
In most schools, it isn’t too difficult to find a few families who can make wise decisions and can keep a confidence. A good job description will go a long way in spelling out your expectations. Your school should have a manual that includes a comprehensive job description for this committee and details a list of what should be kept on file, and who should have access to those files.
7) If you bring someone into your school using tuition assistance and their financial situation doesn’t change, you need to have a commitment to continue the assistance.
This doesn’t need much explanation. Obviously, the ethical thing to do is to continue your financial commitment to the family if their situation doesn’t change.
Hopefully, this information and recommendations help you think through the finances of offering tuition assistance in your school, so that you can help more families, increase enrollment, and not hurt the overall finances of the school.
article by John Shelhamer
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