As I talk with colleagues at independent schools across the country, I see a pattern developing. Many parents and grandparents who pay independent school tuition are growing restless, agitated and volatile as the economy becomes less predictable. Those whose disposable incomes are portfolio-driven and those whose incomes center on the spending and investments of others, based on feedback from colleagues at other schools, appear to be most concerned about making ends meet while paying tuition. For many families, independent school tuition may be one of the expenses that must be cut in the coming months in order to stay afloat. This situation begs the question of how do we, as independent schools, convince our stakeholders that their investment is worth the sacrifice, especially during such uncertain economic times. Quite frankly, we can't afford for our stakeholders to leave our schools and we must convince our stakeholders that they can't afford to leave, either.
First, I suggest we, as educational leaders in independent school education, give our customers top-notch customer service. Much of what we can offer our customers cannot be quantified with a price tag but can be linked directly to customer satisfaction. For example, we should strive to customize our educational programs as much as possible for our families. We should offer a personal touch everywhere this can be done. We must encourage our faculty and staff to go above and beyond the minimum expectations when dealing with students and parents. Little things such as positive emails, phone calls and notes to parents and students can pay big dividends. Giving students and parents a voice can be priceless. Asking parents and students for feedback or for suggestions on ways to improve their educational experience will promote buy-in from those stakeholders.
Second, I suggest we demonstrate publicly our efforts to improve. We must demonstrate to stakeholders ways in which we will be good stewards of their tuition dollars. We must show our stakeholders we are investing in facility and technology upgrades. We must show our continued investment in quality professional development for our teachers, professional development that directly affects students in positive and practical ways. If we are asking stakeholders to continue to invest in our schools, we must show them how we are using their investment dollars to impact their children. Along the same lines, we must demonstrate confidence in our schools. We can do this by showing no signs of panic, by not cutting programs and staff in anticipation of a financial crisis, by staying true to who we are and who we were before the economic crunch began.
Third, I suggest we show evidence of dividends paid on stakeholder investments. These dividends in the world of independent schools can come in the form of ACT and SAT scores, college acceptance lists, scholarship offers for graduating classes, playoff appearances or state titles for athletic teams, individual student achievements, individual teacher achievements, awards or recognition earned by the school, great stories in newspapers or on TV about our students, etc.
We must convey to our stakeholders that the investment they make with us, the investment they make in their children's future, is the one sure-thing investment available to them in the midst of economic turmoil.