Nonpublic schools, from religious educational schools to preparatory schools, have been meeting the educational needs of students while providing a unique learning environment. Over 60% of parents enroll their students in private schools because of the promise of a better education; but when the economy experiences a downturn, private schools typically see a decrease in enrollment as parents withdraw their children and place them in the local public schools to reduce their expenses.
For private schools who rely heavily on tuition payments, the effects of these recessions can be detrimental. These schools need to ensure that they stay focused on the aspects that differentiate them from other schools, especially in a period of shrinking enrollment, and that parents understand the benefits of keeping their children enrolled despite economic declines.
Parents want what’s best for their children, no matter the cost. Making the switch from a private school usually involves parents convincing themselves that private is not better than public. Skimping on their child’s education is never acceptable, but when parents face financial difficulty, it is easier for them to discount the benefits of a private school education.
Private schools need to make it more difficult for a parent to justify the private-to-public switch by highlighting the benefits of choosing private over public. To do this, a private school must first ensure that its students actually realize those benefits.
Standardized test scores (think SAT) are a good place to start when evaluating the quality of education. It is important to maintain and track this data both to show parents the difference and to monitor your school’s performance.
An obvious measure of the quality of education is the quality of the teachers. Ensure teachers are well-qualified, passionate about what they are teaching, and can transfer that knowledge to your school’s children. Make sure the parents know this, too! They should be able to see that teachers are qualified and have ample opportunities to meet with the people educating their children (See our article about parent involvement).
Another characteristic of quality education is challenging courses. Consider offering varying levels of courses to ensure that all students are challenged. Also, parents will like seeing a wide range of subjects and plenty of AP courses or courses that offer college credit. You may also want to consider distance learning, linking your classes with other classes around the country or world, through technology. This will help to open new experiences and create differentiation in your school (e.g. teaching Mandarin).
You also want to start tracking what schools your graduates are getting into, if you don’t already do this. If you can show that you have a track record of placing children in the elite upper schools or colleges, this goes a long way in adding value to your education.
The most common form of college preparation is to offer AP courses. The high-level coursework more closely resembles the level of work needed in college and gives students a leg up when entering college.
Many AP and other courses are available to be taken for college credit. These classes give students an early start to their college career and provide a savings to parents who are paying for their child’s college tuition. Continuing to offer many AP and college credit courses is important and private schools should showcase the various courses offered to parents.
Low Student/Teacher Ratio
Private schools are often associated with more involved teachers. They have high expectations and are willing to put in the time to help students succeed. With the lower student-to-teacher ratio typically found at private schools, it is easier for teachers to set aside time to coach or mentor students to prepare for college and other endeavors. When talking to parents, small class sizes are one of the key factors that drew them to enroll their child in a private school.
Extracurricular Activities and Sports
Extracurricular activities and sports prepare students for life after high school and enhance competencies beyond the scope of classroom learning. They teach soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, collaboration, and more.
Creating positive experiences for children through clubs, sports, school spirit, and other social exchanges provides ties to your school, which, in turn, can help legacies from families in the form of future enrollment and contributions.
Private and independent schools are facing a tremendous level of competition, both from other private schools and from local public and charter schools. Unwavering focus on the aspects of private schools that attract parents and make a private school education a need and not a want is essential.
If you expect parents to spend extra money on their child’s education, you need to make sure there is sufficient value to cover the cost. Focus on maintaining and highlighting those benefits that make a private education a better choice.
For more information about this topic, please contact:
Shari Diamond, CIA
Shari has been with Cerini & Associates, LLP since 2008 where she works primarily with the firm’s school district clients providing internal audit and claims audit services. She has over twenty years’ experience performing internal audits, risk assessments, and compliance reviews, as well as recommending processes to strengthen the internal controls environment while increasing efficiencies. Her prior experience at PWC and Northrop Grumman included performing Information Technology audits.