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Build a Payment Culture at Your School

Building a payment culture into the fabric of your community is the best way to set families up for school fee success. Read how you can develop a payment culture at your school, right from the start. 

Build a payment culture at your school — from first enquiry to graduation

It’s no secret that cost is a huge consideration for parents looking to enrol their children in private school education. Not only do parents have to set aside money to cover fees, there are often long lists of incidentals that they’ll need to pay for throughout the duration of their child’s schooling, including uniforms, camps, special subject costs and more. Unfortunately, parents are often unprepared to pay these costs, meaning finance officers often spend their days chasing unpaid fees and working with families to get caught up. This process chews up time and energy that could better be spent on activities that will add enormous value to the life of your school. In addition, your school could be operating with tens of thousands, or even millions of dollars of outstanding fees, adding a huge financial burden to your operations.

The answer? Building a payment culture into the fabric of your school community. By setting families up for success, right from their first enquiry, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of administration required to keep families in the black. At Cole School Experts, our team of experienced Debtor Managers work with dozens of schools across Australia and New Zealand to help set their finance teams up for fee collection success. We asked one of our senior and most experienced Debtor Managers to discuss her top tips for implementing a payment culture at your school.

Tip 1: Advise parents or caregivers of fee requirements at key moments along the enrolment journey

Families understand that by enrolling their child at your school, they will be required to pay school fees. However, many fee schedules can be confusing, or leave out incidentals like special subject costs or fees for camps and excursions. These extra costs can place a strain on family finances, if not properly budgeted for.

We suggest that you have a clear and informative fees brochure, and that it is provided to families upon enquiry, enrolment. It’s also important that families can easily access it from your school website. These fees brochures should be updated toward the end of each year to reflect the following years fees and payment requirements.  

Along with providing a PDF and link for information about school fees, tools like Feesable’s School Fee Calculator can provide parents with a solid indication of what their children’s schooling will cost in future years so they can make plans and budget accordingly. 

Tip 2: Offer flexible payment plans that can be adapted to each family’s specific situation

Traditionally, schools have requested fee payment for the upcoming quarter in a lump sum. This can leave some families scrambling to come up with the full amount, and others to simply ignore the payment and enter into arrears. Forward-thinking schools recognise that parents have different needs and may need to design payment plan policies that can easily adapt to unexpected and exceptional family expenses, but still assist them meet the fee obligations in their budget by the due deadline. 

We encourage finance officers to work with incoming families to find a flexible schedule that gives them the best chance of meeting their fee obligations. We then recommend providing a clear fee schedule with dates and amounts so that parents are never left wondering when their accounts will be debited. 

Tip 3: Remind families that they are welcome to reach out to discuss fees at any time

When families are keeping up with their school fees, it can be easy to assume that their finances are under control. It’s only when they start missing payments or, worse, unenrol from your school community that many finance officers are prompted to check in. However, proactive communication is the best way to ensure that families feel taken care of and are comfortable to reach out if their financial situation changes. We recommend regularly communicating (on documents, your website and in conversations with families) that if families have a change in their financial circumstances, or would like to discuss fees that they are welcome to reach out and contact your finance department at any time. 

Tip 4: Regularly review your enrolment contracts

Having a strong enrolment contract is one of the best ways to ensure parents are aware of their fee responsibilities. While many schools rely on a ‘one and done’ approach at the enrolment stage, others ask parents to sign new contracts each year. Whichever approach your school takes, it’s important that you regularly review your contracts (an annual review is recommended), to ensure your terms are current and you’ve addressed any new issues. A good enrolment contract outlines all parties’ responsibilities when it comes to fee payment, including:

  • Who is responsible for fee payment 
  • When fees are charges are payable
  • How and when your school must notify parents of fee increases.

Tip 5: Enlist a virtual finance team 

If your school is experiencing an increase in unpaid fees, it helps to enlist a team of experts to help turn things around. Cole School Experts employs a team of compassionate and knowledgeable finance professionals who understand the intricacies of working within a school environment. Most schools don’t have the resources to satisfactory get a grasp of their aged debtor ledger, but our Debtor Managers have the time and experience required to review outstanding fee levels regularly and consistently communicate with parents about their payment plans.

Virtual Debtor Managers work with your finance team to understand why fees are going unpaid, develop a plan to get your families back on track with their fees, and bring your debtor balances back where you want them. 

Ready to learn more? Get in touch with the Cole School Experts team today!

Build a Payment Culture at Your School