Traditional Versus Continuous Enrollment for Schools: The Case for Making The Change in 2019 and Beyond
“Is your child coming back to our school next year?”
There are many processes baked into a school’s operation that are often not questioned for a variety of reasons, such as “we’ve always done it that way,” or “because every other school does it the same way.” Unfortunately, this way of thinking may result in adverse consequences.
If you’re still asking this question, your re-enrollment process is likely one of them.
Asking families every year if they will be returning may lead them to place doubt over their loyalty or interest in your school. Can you imagine if your mortgage broker knocked on your front door every year and asked if you want to “re-buy” or “re-enroll” in the mortgage you have with them? I certainly can’t.
In my opinion, the process a parent goes through to select a school is far more personal and life-altering as compared to the selection of a mortgage company. Do you see the problem?
Think about it for a minute: out of all the major life decisions you’ve made, how crucial is the decision a parent makes with regard to which school to send their children? I personally think this decision ranks even higher than the choice of which house to live in or which car to buy. I would even say it ranks right up there with considerations such as who to marry, which career to pursue, and even how many children to have.
If this is true, then why do we keep going back to our existing parents to resell them on the idea of their child attending your school? They’ve already spent a ton of emotional and intellectual energy on making that decision before. Do you go back to your spouse every year and ask if they want to renew your marriage vows?
Do you get the point?
Unintended Consequences On Your Parents
Going through a painful re-enrollment process every year is helpful to neither parents nor your staff. You are only subjecting them to an inefficient procedure by having them fill out forms and re-submit all the same information again and again. This outdated system requires them to allot more time and resources to a process they should be able to easily breeze through.
Ask your millennial families how much they enjoy the re-enrollment process. I know they cannot stand the inherent friction it creates. They don’t see this same friction in the stores where they shop or where they work, especially when they’re accustomed to using technology to make the buying process very efficient.
Want a way to remove the friction in your re-enrollment process? Rather than asking families to re-enroll, instead give families the option to opt-out during a set period of time every year. For example, designate the month of January as the opt-out period. If you don’t hear from them by February 1st, you’ll know they are coming back and you can bill them for next year's tuition payment. (All this would be explained to them upon enrollment as part of their tuition contract, which would also include provisions such as the timing of notifications of tuition increases and the enrollment of additional siblings).
This opt-out process makes your contract a one-time decision valid throughout the entire time a family is enrolled with you. The only time these families would need to act during the opt-out period is when they need to provide details regarding any major changes in their information, such as a change in address or financial information.
While this is a major win for parents in reducing friction, it is also a major win for your staff.
Unintended Consequences On Your Staff
Traditional re-enrollment generally requires your staff to collect and process the same information year in and year out. Not only does this seem tedious, but it also wastes time that could be better spent on other more relevant school programs or activities
Can you imagine how many staff hours you could save or reallocate if you didn’t have to do enrollment the same way anymore?
For example, consider how many hours you and your staff have spent discussing the following:
Thinking of ways to encourage your current parents to re-enroll in your school.
Creating and implementing the re-enrollment plans and activities you’ve spent hours brainstorming.
Reviewing your list of re-enrollees and separating those who did not re-enroll.
Contacting or even chasing down those families who did not give their signature for re-enrollment.
Waiting to finalize the number students you can expect on the first day of school.
Traditional re-enrollment procedures include numerous steps, too many activities, and many redundancies. Fortunately, these can all be improved, which is why I’ve always pushed for Continuous Enrollment for our school clients. Schools that follow our recommendations are never disappointed.
While the first year will require some work in the setup and communication of the new program, that effort will pay off big time in the long run.
The Blessings of Continuous Enrollment
This process is also known by several terms, including assumed enrollment, automatic re-enrollment, and perpetual enrollment. As mentioned earlier, continuous enrollment assumes your current families will enroll the next school year and, unless the family decides to opt out, they are enrolled in your school until their child or children graduate.
It’s that simple.
Adapting this procedure will make it easier for your re-enrolling families, your school staff, and even for those families who opt out or move to another school.
I’ve discussed Continuous Enrollment in one of Schola’s webinars. This webinar is a great resource in helping you to understand the benefits of this process and illustrates how other schools have successfully implemented it. In it, I interview David Hawes, the Director of Operations for Washington Christian Academy, and he enumerates the benefits that both their re-enrolling families as well as their school staff have experienced after they put their Continuous Enrollment program into effect.
A Win-Win Situation
Learning about continuous enrollment can truly take the stress off of your admissions team, and even your administrative team as a whole. This also works for your families, as you’re also applying a more effective approach to the re-enrollment process.
As per David Hawes’ assessment of Continuous Enrollment, here are two reasons why they decided to use it for Washington Christian Academy:
1. Common Sense
“The issue about having your families to opt-in or opt-out for re-enrolling for the next school year is mainly about respecting their decision. Why would you want to ask that question from your families every year? Just by asking the question if they wanted to re-enroll, it’s already assuming why wouldn’t they want to re-enroll?
On the school’s administrative side, in terms of paperwork, they saw a huge benefit with the simplification of the re-enrollment process. For parents, the amount of paperwork or having forms to fill out and send was enough of a chore and a burden that they would always put off until summer, or even up to August.
The highlight is on when you take into account your re-enrollment percentage. The re-enrollment percentage at Washington Christian Academy has been at 90%. The re-enrollment procedure should then be simplified for that 90%, and not focused on the 10%.
Why make it harder for them and easier for the 10%? It’s not that we’re trying to make it hard for people to go to another school, but let’s try to simplify things as much as possible for the people.”
2. Making It Early
“There are some families that are always late with submitting their signed contract for the next school year’s re-enrollment. With continuous enrollment, our school can make things happen earlier. Setting an earlier deadline for opting-out, for example, we are then able to identify families’ issues with re-enrolling.
The benefit of having them opt-out as early as February or March, there are issues that only came to light that would not have surfaced until later on. This gave the school the opportunity for discussions with the families to hopefully be able to resolve it.”
During the course of implementing the Continuous Enrollment program, some challenges were encountered by the school staff, namely in rolling it out, both internally and externally.
“As can be expected with any significant changes in processes, certain issues arose, especially about the financial picture: could we create a process where our re-enrolling families didn’t have to undergo paperwork like having to write checks and no signing of forms?
Our school conducted a couple of hour-long meetings and some much longer. Just having the time to go through the thought process, defining and beginning this new program, having to put into place things ahead of time, a year before re-enrollment, and preparing the changes in the contract, which will take effect during the following year, it all took a lot of lead time," explains David.
“In communicating it well, explaining the new program to families, for them to accept the change. We never got even one question on why we’re doing it. It didn’t end up being a challenge at all, but just a mechanical part of the process, what processes existed before and what processes should be followed now.”
“There is also an important distinction to make: obviously schools want to protect their mission, but the reality is you put your parents through a rigorous process when they first enroll in your school, and unless they’ve changed drastically or dramatically that’s visible in the community, the assumption is that they’re still committed to your mission.
Some schools I’ve seen have an annual re-commitment to their mission. I don’t know if it’s necessary, but I do believe that once they’ve committed to your school, If they met our standards, their family is in good standing, their children are doing well in school, and we don’t have any reason to believe that they’ve changed unless they tell us otherwise.”
There is not a one-size fits all solution for implementing Continuous Enrollment, especially considering a school’s traditions. David and his team had to figure out what was the right way to execute the program for them. If you want to assess your school’s capabilities and find out if you can implement Continuous Enrollment, you can start by meeting with your school administrators to determine your objectives, and eventually sharing your plans with your current families and discussing the benefits of the program with them.
We encourage you to watch the webinar in the banner below and then discuss this with your staff.
If you are a member enrolled in Schola University or a retainer client, expect to dive into this topic deeper and learn how to implement it in your particular school. Watch our mastermind webinars for more information on this important topic.