Automatic Re-Enrollment — Could this Strategy Work at Your School?

hThere has been something about re-enrollment that has bothered me ever since I was head of school 12 years ago.

Isn’t it ironic that we ask our parents every year to tell us if they will be enrolling for the next school year?

Why do we ask all of our parents to re-enroll when most of them already plan to return?

Many business contracts today renew automatically unless you choose to opt out.

I think it is time for some private, independent and faith-based schools to consider this alternative approach to re-enrollment. Instead of an annual re-enrollment campaign, the approach should be “once enrolled, always enrolled.” This should be our message whenever a new family enrolls.

Re-enrollment should be automatic.

In 2011, I began working with Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, VA. As I began to assess their enrollment process and strategy, I discovered that they had implemented automatic re-enrollment a couple of years ago.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Diane Carnahan, Admissions Coordinator at Immanuel Christian, some questions by email about automatic re-enrollment to share with you in this blog post.

How does automatic re-enrollment work? 

“We send home a packet with new personalized tuition figures for each family and a letter with instructions.  Because about 85% of our families do re-enroll, we assume students will be returning and ask parents to let us know if they will NOT be re-enrolling or if they want to delay their decision.  They are motivated by the fact that money will automatically be deducted if they do not respondWe have set up a web form for parents to respond electronically, so no paper exchanges hands and no checks need to be sent in to the office.  They have a deadline to respond if they wish to opt out.

We set up the new year in our FACTS system for online payments and include all families. FACTS lets the parents know by mail or email (whatever method they have selected for the previous year) that a new year has been set up and they inform them of the date and amount of the automatic withdrawal.  We have monthly as well as one or two payment plans.  We pay the FACTS fee for the one or two payment plans because we REALLY want to be able to make this automatic.  If people pay by check or some other method, we are unable to make it automatic.

At the same time, we set up our database and automatically re-enroll all students for the next year.  Then as we are notified if people are not re-enrolling automatically because they anticipate a change, or they are withdrawing, we back out those students from the database for the following year.”

Do you require an annual enrollment contract? If so, how does this work with automatic re-enrollment? 

“We do not have a contract, but we do have annual forms and agreements for parents to complete which we do as part of the back to school packet.  These are the same agreements that parents make when they initially enroll.  These are electronic web forms also.  They complete all of their forms at once just before school starts.”

What motivated you to make the change to this process?

“We were making 100% of the parents respond with checks and forms when only 15% of the families were the ones in question.  This 15% includes people who withdraw and those who don’t know yet what they are going to do.  Therefore, we do not have to chase down so many parents to get forms and checks and we do not have to process their checks. “

How did you make this change?

“When FACTS changed their system so that families used the same registration for subsequent school years we were able to do this.  Previously, families had to set up a new agreement with FACTS every year.”

How do you market automatic re-enrollment?

“Our information packet informed parents of the change.  It wasn’t hard to convince the administration that it would be easier in terms of processing.  It is the same amount of work for the business office and in the database.  We can get it all set up at once in a consistent manner rather than having to do the data entry piecemeal and process the payments as they come in to the office.”

How do you communicate automatic re-enrollment to new families entering the school?

“It is clear in our literature. Also, when the payment plans are set up, there is no payment for the current school year in March.  This is when the deposit is automatically collected for the new year.  All families are informed in February after the new tuition is set.  Our payment year goes from June to February or through May depending on how many payments are selected.”

How have your parents responded?

“They love the fact that they don’t have to do anything if they are returning.  We had about the same number of students withdraw and opt out of automatic re-enrollment as in other years.  Those who opt out are the ones who are indecisive about returning for a variety of reasons.”

What have been the results?

“Automatic re-enrollment had fewer problems for returning families than in previous years.  There were often families who just never got around to setting up their paperwork and, because we don’t have waiting lists, they knew they could wait until the last minute to re-enroll. Instead of having to process papers for 100% of the families, we work more closely with the small percent that are undecided.”

What would you recommend to other schools considering this as an option? 

“Our families really appreciate not having to add one more thing to their already busy schedules.  It is the same work administratively, but the timing is slightly different. And, the marketing approach is completely different.  This approach has really made re-enrollment easier and it did not drag out the process as long as before.  I definitely recommend it.”

Thanks Diane for sharing how automatic re-enrollment works at Immanuel Christian School.

What are your thoughts about automatic re-enrollment?

Could automatic re-enrollment work for your school?

16 Responses to Automatic Re-Enrollment — Could this Strategy Work at Your School?

  1. Marie Wesson says:

    I am just wondering how financial aid awards are handled with an automatic reenrollment system.

    • Marie–This is a great question! I will ask Diane how they handle financial aid and will have her post her response here.

      • Great question and not an easy one. We do not assume that families will receive financial aid each year. Our financial aid decisions are not made until May, so we send them the same financial statements as everyone else. In our letter to parents we ask them to contact the business manager if they need to make special arrangements. Not everyone asks but some do. This also includes people who just do not want to use FACTS for their payments for the 1 and 2 payment families. These families still pay the deposit in March and in May they pay 50% or 100%.

  2. Dana says:

    Thanks for this, Rick. I’m wondering how schools handle not having a contract. My understanding is that the contract holds the family financially responsible for tuition. Is there a legal loophole that is allowing schools NOT to have families sign a new contract? I see that this school does back-to-school forms- is that a legal substitute? Thanks for any feedback!

    • Thanks Dana. I am going to reach out to Janice Crampton at AISAP to get her thoughts on the contract issue.

      • Rick, Did you receive a response from AISAP? We have gone to an automatic re-enrollment this year and I am quite interested in Dana’s legal question. We always look forward to your blog! Keep up the great work!

        • Thanks Blake! I am actually in process of getting this reponse and hope to have it posted this week.

          • Diane Carnahan says:

            We have that annual agreement which is the same one parents sign when applying for admission. We do not have contracts because we do not hold our parent responsible for paying the full year tuition if they withdraw. We do add 10 days’ tuition to their charges if they withdraw during the school year and prorate the refund if there is one. So a contract doesn’t really apply to our situation. We have people leave mid-year and people come in mid-year. But I would be interested in what AISAP said.

  3. Steve Blankenship says:

    Just wanted to add in a voice of support. We have done this at Arcadia Christian School, Arcadia, CA with the same positive experience.

  4. Jill Baker says:

    I am curious about the statement “We pay the FACTS fees for the one or two payment plans because we really want to be able to make this automatic.”
    What kind of a fee is this and how much is it?

    • Thanks Jill for your question. I will email Diane and get her response to this question for you.

      • FACTS stands for Fast Action Cash Transfer System. This is the vendor we use to process our tuition payments. They charge an annual fee for their service which we pass onto the parents. The fee varies depending on whether parents choose a monthly payment plan or a 1-or 2-payment plan. The latter is only $15 and we pay this. The monthly fee is about $40 per month. (I think this fee varies a few dollars depending on when you signed up with them. We have been using this nearly 10 years.) For this we have all funds transferred electronically to our account and we do not need to receive and process process monthly checks. There are other companies with this service also.

  5. Neil Pierson says:

    In Australian schools automatic re-enrollment is normal. Families enrol with the assumption they will continue till the end of schooling. In most private schools if a family choose NOT to return they must give one terms (10 weeks) advance notice or they will be charged fees for the whole next term. If the school offers both Primary and Secondary schooling families may need to to give two, to four, terms notice to indicate if they wish to leave in this transition. We don’t have the financial aid model which makes it easier to do this.

    • We do not have a contract, so we don’t have a guarantee that parents must keep students enrolled for the entire year. There are a variety of factors which can influence a parent’s decision and we live in a very transient area. However, 2 month’s tuition is non-refundable. This forces parents to make a decision to withdraw early in the summer as we start the second payment in June. Re-enrollment is basically set by July. For withdrawals after November 1 we charge a 10-day tuition fee regardless of how much notice we receive.

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