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Communicating About Affordability in Christian Schools

In Christian School, education marketing by David MillsLeave a Comment

It is easy to conflate financial need and affordability, but even parents who don’t have financial need have concerns about whether they can afford the school they want their children to attend. These are two separate conversations. While your school may focus its enrollment marketing on those who don’t fall into the high financial need category, that doesn’t mean that affordability should be ignored. You might be surprised how far concerns about affordability in Christian schools reach across the financial spectrum. The following graph comes from research with 2700 families applying to private schools in 2017.

chart showing affordability concerns for parents

(EMA 2017 Ride to Enrollment Report)

When you view the graph, you should notice the obvious gap between families who fall into the middle bracket and those who make more than $200,000 per year. But please note the floor—it’s a 56% concern rate for even the highest earners. It is only among families above $250,000 in annual income that this concern really drops beneath what should be treated as a major issue for enrollment.

Why Affordability is an Enrollment Marketing Issue

The power of perception is vital in enrollment marketing. Most private schools seek to present a high quality, values-based, personalized, and innovative education brand. When you promote these factors along with the other differentiators—things that make your school special—it may suggest an affordability challenge that discourages families from applying. You shared all the great things about the school, but in addition to impressing parents, it makes them wonder if they can afford you. If you communicate that you are indeed a special school, you may also be communicating that you are not an affordable school. That perception (real or imagined) can discourage applications by mission-appropriate families, who may not even have a significant financial need.

Affordability concerns, even unfounded ones, can become a barrier to serious consideration of your school.

Affordability for most families in the U.S. is an issue that is relative to their life situation. They aren’t measuring whether your school is actually “affordable,” but rather, “affordable for them.” The decisions around private school enrollment and its costs are life-priority decisions. Concerns about affordability have to fit into the broader concerns held by parents about total educational costs including college. When they think about your tuition, they are also looking beyond to the costs of university.

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More than anything, affordability is a value calculation. By focusing on the things that parents who fit your mission value the most, you can help them to ensure that the right elements are considered. Some of these calculations are personal and relate to unique needs or opportunities for their child. Others are more global and relate to how well your school will support the development of Christian character and spiritual maturity, as well as preparation for the child’s college and career. And of course, parents also weigh what you offer against how good or negative the public school experience might be in your community. All of these factors go into a value calculation that they may be summarizing under the category of “affordable.”

When people are thinking about affordability, they are really asking a bigger question: “is the cost worth it for my child?”

How to Approach Affordability in Enrollment Marketing

Consider the following principles as you work to communicate how your school helps families to deal with affordability concerns:

  1. Don’t talk about costs in a vacuum. Since affordability is a really a calculation about the value of the education, personal development, and spiritual growth, keeping the cost discussion in context is important. Don’t allow costs to be pushed out just as a “price sheet,” unless you want your school to be a commodity. Place cost information alongside the rest of your differentiators.
    People want to know about prices, but allow that interest to start a conversation. Price is a frequent stop on most Christian school websites. Take a tip from the top preschool companies in the nation who won’t leave their price sheet out on the counter. Build pricing information into your marketing automation so that you can begin a discussion with people about what your school really has to offer.
    In one Prek-12 that works with Story Collaborative, who requires some information prior to sharing pricing, they saw that 34% of over 4,000 people were willing to provide that information in order to view their pricing. That’s over a thousand serious prospects.
  2. Help families do the college math. Add up the various elements that you provide that can dramatically reduce the cost of college. Dual enrollment, state scholarship qualifications, AP classes, percentages of scholarship awarded, sports scholarships etc, are all part of what happens after a student graduates. In many cases, the cost of one or more years of your school will reduce a year or more of college tuition cost, and the financial trade is in your favor.
    Make sure that “affordability” and “investment” find their way into easy to find pages on your website.
    Tell stories about college outcomes for students from your school. Don’t just list the financial impact in the affordability page, but show how the real students are now making their way in the world. Also note the scholarships and/or advanced placement they receive.
  3. Target your advertising messages to fit the unique concerns of parents. Since digital marketing today allows for very precise targeting, you can deliver the right affordability message to the right families and help them include your school in their short list.
  4. Your communications for both marketing and admissions, whether in person or online, should always emphasize the things you deliver that have the highest value—especially those things that are priceless. No one can really put a price tag on what it’s worth to “raise up a child in the way they should go.” Both spiritual formation, and placing a child on the runway to a successful future are outcomes that many parents are prepared to put on their investment priority list.

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