Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Whole New Mind - Applications for Schools, Part One

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the FutureIn A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink speaks of the necessity of work that:
  1. Cannot be done cheaper overseas
  2. Computers cannot do faster
  3. Satisfies the "aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time" (p. 61).
I have been thinking about how this applies to schools. Specifically, I am thinking about how these three points apply to private school enrollment and operations.

This post explores statement one:

Work that cannot be done cheaper overseas

While most schools are not directly competing with an overseas market for students, whenever potential families have choices about how to use their dollars, there is competition for those dollars.

In the most basic sense, tuition charging schools need to decide to position themselves in the market that they choose to enter for students.  The three I refer to most often are:
  1. High tuition: best product, highest quality
  2. Great value: less expensive, but getting a great deal for your dollar
  3. Specialized program: serve a VERY specific niche group and charges an acceptable tuition for such specialized attention (an example may be a school specifically for students with certain learning challenges)
Tuition revenue makes up the highest percentage of the operating budget, so striking the correct balance between what your community can support and the amount that covers most of your budget is essential.  "Cheaper" may not be an option if it is financially irresponsible.  So, what can schools do?

One way to apply this statement to schools is to examine cheaper in terms of expenses other than liquid capital.  What other resources do schools "spend" for operations?  Are there any efficiencies to be found?

Human resources

Taking a look at how the school is staffed may shed light on possible efficiencies or shortages.  Are too many people assigned to some areas and not enough to others?  Are there possibilities for re-assignment of some people?  Would additional training add to the flexibility/diversity of your staff?

Ultimately, the well-trained professionals in your school are your most valuable assets.  There needs to be enough of them to deliver the desired school experience.  If you are lacking the human resources to deliver, either get more or be prepared to adjust your expectations about the experience. 

Time

Time.  It always seems in short supply.  There are only so many hours in a day, so it is important that time is spent well.  From time to time, examine your calendar.  Is your time being spent among those you are most directly responsible for supporting?  Is there a disproportionate amount of time used by initiatives better delegated to others?  Time is among the most precious resources a school has to use.  Use it well. 

Alternative revenue streams

Outside of tuition, other revenue streams need examination.  The more a school can rely on other sources of revenue, the less dependent it needs to be on tuition.  That may help keep your tuition costs competitive and manageable.  Examples of sources include annual giving, endowments, restricted and unrestricted gifts, special events (such as auctions, school fairs, etc.), and planned giving.

Efforts to maximize these sources need to focus on more than just the bottom line/total amount collected.  While that figure is important, it often does not tell the entire story of your school's effectiveness.  Other important items include a per family/household amount given, volunteer appreciation and support, and points of entry.

By points of entry, I am referring to how often people other than students and faculty/staff are exposed to the life of the school.  This includes after school events, special events, newsletters, alumni magazines, and other similar communications.

In addition, using technology to maintain close contact is becoming more and more essential.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, effective web sites, etc. are critical pieces to your development plan - if no other reason than to nurture your network of connected community members. 

Conclusion

While maintaining an awareness of hidden efficiencies may be important, keeping the costs of running a school manageable is a challenge most private schools need to meet.  Lowering costs is usually not a significant option, especially when your greatest expense (the salaries and benefits your employees make) is only going to increase.

Remaining sensitive to the needs of your program, teachers, students and families, and to the scarcity of time may help bring hidden opportunities into the light of day.  Once identified, such opportunities should be acted upon and celebrated.

Finally, the financial realities of operating a school are important.  In addition to prudent tuition management, alternative revenue sources are key to remaining a financially viable.  Keeping costs in an acceptable range for your community also helps keep retention numbers high and makes your school attractive to a larger, mission-appropriate population.

School leaders focus their efforts on doing the "expensive" work so that the "costs" associated with being a member of the school community is acceptable, if not attractive.
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