Enrollment is down. Now what?

(Originally published as an article within ECCU’s former e-publication, Ministry Banking Today.)

For most Christian schools, enrollment looks different today than it did a few years ago. We asked several leaders from schools like yours, along with a director at Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), for tips on what you can implement today to bring your income back up—without relying solely on additional tuition. Here’s what we learned.

Reduce, rather than eliminate. An obvious way to compensate for decreased revenue is to make budget cuts. However, rather than looking for entire line items to eliminate, consider cutting back creatively. Friends Christian School (FCS) in Yorba Linda, California, partnered with parents to maintain programs through volunteering to help cut costs. Foothill Christian Schools in Glendora, California, joined a self-funded workers compensation program for private Christian schools and cut expenses by 50 percent. Then they called every supplier to renegotiate contracts and discount services. “Just by changing the day of our trash pick-up and reducing bins, we save about $500 a month,” says Bernice Lowell, business manager at Foothill Christian. “Switching to a different copy machine—with the same company—saves us about $6,000 a year. We were even able to negotiate a price freeze on paper products…no stone went unturned.”

Examine your cash flow. “When the crunch started coming down, our credit union called us to see how they could help,” says Lowell. “We realized we did not have access to our cash as readily as we could, and set up remote deposit capture. Now, checks are deposited same-day, increasing our cash flow and earning us additional interest. Interestingly, we also get fewer checks with non-sufficient funds—probably because parents are aware of our new system.”

Above all, esteem your mission. In good times and bad, remain rooted in your mission and distinctive. When finances are squeezed, the temptation is to cut back on big expenses. But those are often the very things that attract students to your school in the first place. “Strengthening your mission—the things that make you distinct from local charter and public schools—will prompt parents to say ‘I can’t afford not to have that’ when they are tempted to cut back in that area,” says Jan Stump, director of development at ACSI. For Friends Christian, esteeming their mission means demonstrating to potential FCS families how the tuition plays out in the lives of graduates. From promotional videos featuring alumni, to “Mission Tours” of the campus, FCS articulates their mission at every opportunity.

Consider other revenue streams. This is a biggie, and something to think about even if you’re not struggling with declining enrollments. According to Stump, schools that depend entirely on tuition are setting themselves up for potential hardship. She suggests evaluating the following sources of income:

  • Charitable contributions. Build a solid donor base (alumni are a great place to start) and use the money to increase scholarships to current families.
  • For-profit revenue streams, such as side-businesses. Just be careful that they align with your mission. Special education services, summer sports camps, and after-school care could all parallel your mission while supplementing your income.
  • Appropriately accessed federal funding, as long as it does not affect hiring practices or take you away from your mission. FCS applied for more grants to help underwrite teacher conferences, field trips, and special activities. Options and availability will vary by state; for information specific to your area, contact the ACSI department of legal legislative services if you are an ACSI member, or e-mail Tom Cathey to request white papers addressing federal funding.

In addition to considering alternative revenue sources, schools can also explore ways to better manage their existing tuition income. One option is ECCU’s Prepaid Tuition Money Market Account.

 

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