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The Pros and Cons of Continuous Enrollment for Private Schools
Scott Delleville

Continuous enrollment is not a new topic. In fact, it’s been around for many years in the higher education space. For years, colleges and universities have chosen not to provide an annual contract. Instead, evergreen enrollment contracts are the name of the game. It’s agreed that the student will inform the school later down the road if they decide not to return. Certain payment processing partners have instituted this process as well, rolling over payment plans for families each year. 

But what about continuous enrollment in the K-12 independent and private school space? 

What are the pros and cons of a private school choosing to implement a continuous enrollment process? Is this something that can be done fairly easily? Or are there a lot of hoops schools need to jump through? And ultimately, will the change be well-received by your head of school, school board, and most importantly- your parents? 

To figure out the answers to these questions, I talked to schools who had considered continuous enrollment and got their insight on the specific pros and cons of continuous enrollment to help you decide if it’s worth the switch. 

How Schools Are Approaching Continuous Enrollment

Before I dive into the specifics, I wanted to share the findings from a study SAIS conducted back in 2018 asking schools about continuous enrollment.

Here’s what they found: 

  • Schools currently considering transitioning to continuous enrollment: 44%
  • Not considering it: 26%
  • Successfully transitioned and happy with change: 17%
  • Studied switching but decided against the change:  7%
  • In the process of transitioning: 4%
  • Attempted continuous enrollment and returned to the traditional model: 2%

While these numbers reveal the interest level in this particular topic as well as a largely split audience, what the numbers didn’t reveal was what convinced schools in their final decision. To do that, I went straight to the source and talked to schools who had considered switching and either went forward with it or chose not to find out exactly what factors played into their final decision.

The Pros of Continuous Enrollment for Private Schools

Enrollment season is a busy time of year for every school. In fact, every season is busy. You may be in the midst of running an open house or hosting other events on campus, recruiting students, enrolling them, or implementing new yield strategies. Continuous enrollment may help you combat some of the craziness. 

Empty Classroon

Here are some of the pros of implementing evergreen enrollment contracts at a private school:

  • Retention rates may improve.

Continuous enrollment could be an easy retention strategy for your school. Parents are very familiar with certain services rolling over each year. Having a continuous enrollment process can help “lock-in” parents and families who enroll in the following years and reduce the risk of attrition. With the extended contract, families won’t have the ability or need to go out and look at other options.

  • Clear budgeting and forecasting.

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly how many computers need to be ordered for next year’s class? Continuous enrollment allows you to proactively budget and forecast for the following year knowing how many students will be returning and not returning. 

  • A focused admission and enrollment team.

Continuous enrollment can help your admission and enrollment teams remain focused on new enrollment and driving revenue for the school. It could be a great way to allow enough time to revisit certain policies, efforts, and collaboration between departments. 

  • Less paperwork and fewer deadlines for families.

Continuous enrollment may eliminate paperwork for your families, as they will only need to sign a contract once. Additionally, certain continuous enrollment schools make payment deadlines more flexible and allow parents to pay their re-enrollment fees over the course of a couple of months if they’ve committed to the following year. (This can be a pro, but it could become problematic if you need the cash flow immediately. Especially if parent payment plans have ended or you’re in a period where no tuition payments are coming in.)

The Cons of Continuous Enrollment For Private Schools

One of the core reasons your private school might choose not to adopt a continuous enrollment process are the unknowns and losses that result. You have to think about if the end result will be worth adding on additional work and possible complications to make the switch.

Here are some of the cons of switching to continuous enrollment at a private school:

  • Extra work for canceled contracts.

If you choose to implement continuous enrollment, certain families may decide to leave prior to the next school year and have a number of refunds to process via check or credit card adding extra work and confusion for your office. Additionally, if a student is not a mission-appropriate student, continuous enrollment makes it extremely difficult to ask a student to leave once they have completed the contract for the upcoming year.

  • Losing out on a chance to tell your school story.

Parents take their children’s education very seriously and private school is often a considerable investment for families. One study found that parents want to ensure their child is receiving a valuable education. In fact, EMA’s 2019 industry report notes the top reason families apply to private schools is to provide an education that will change their child and to help them develop and maintain a love of learning. Having a continuous enrollment process eliminates a chance for your school to re-sell families on your mission and school vision each year. You may miss out on sharing your full value proposition to returning families. 

  • Legality and compliance concerns.

Continuous enrollment requires you to continually review your continuous enrollment contract with your legal team. You’ll need to make sure you know how long a contract can be enforced. For example, if a new parent signs a contract when their child is in kindergarten, is the contract still enforceable when they’re in 9th grade? Certain states require that parents re-enter into an agreement after a certain number of years. You’ll have to figure out the rules for your specific state as well as federal TILA requirements if you offer payment plans and ensure you’re following all the right guidelines so you can send continuous enrollment contracts that comply with all the rules and regulations for your specific state. Whether you send them electronically or via email, there is a considerable amount of work to do to ensure you’re following the rules.

  • Complexity when updating terms and conditions.

How often do you update your contracts terms to add something new like changes to late fees, media waiver rights, or other contractual obligations? Having an annual process to update contracts makes this easier. Updating terms and conditions for continuous enrollment generally require more work to implement as a one-off update.  

  • Change in office focus and distribution of tasks.

When you move to a continuous enrollment model, the focus of getting re-enrollment deposits and payment plans moves from the admission team to your school’s business office. You’ll need to decide and agree which office will manage that process. You also need to get buy-in from all of the departments that will be affected by the switch. 

  • Technology Fit. 

Certain software systems don’t function in a way that would fully support a continuous enrollment process. For example, some admission and enrollment softwares require yearly enrollment contract renewals. It’s best to check with your technology team if you want to implement continuous enrollment. If your solution is not a “fit”, that may lead to a much bigger discussion internally.

Knowing What’s Right For Your School

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to deciding if continuous enrollment is the right fit for your school. While the desired effect of evergreen contracts is to ease the burden on your school and your families, if you’re not careful, it can have the opposite effect. There are many rules and regulations to follow, and steps to think through before your private school can successfully implement a continuous enrollment process. Ultimately, the decision is up to your individual school. Only you can fully determine if this would be the right fit. 

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