Automatic Sibling Discounts: The Conversation Continues

Vol. 13 No. 6

admissions eletter Vol13 No6 forumdebate

In a recent poll on our Admission Director’s e-List, schools discussed their rationale for having (or forsaking) sibling discounts. A myriad of options were presented, running the gamut from capped tuition or percentage discounts to none at all. We’d like to take a moment to share some perspectives on the situation, based on what participants have contributed.

“It costs the same to educate every child.”

If your school offers a 50% discount on the tuition of a current student’s sibling, will your teachers then give only 50% of the effort and resources they give to other students? Of course not! Your school’s goal is to educate its students in accordance with its mission, and your teachers give 110% to every one of their pupils. That sort of dedication in terms of time and resources costs money, which is lost when discounts are applied.

In the end, the costs your school incurs to educate a single student are the same whether his or her parents pay full-price or receive financial assistance. The income your school loses when sibling discounts are offered must be offset to ensure that the quality of your programming and educational opportunities are not diminished.

“We’ve done this forever.”

Tradition can be powerful, especially at long-established institutions with loyal families who have sent generations of students through your program. Changing tuition policies for siblings can create ripples in what had been a previously languid community, creating tension. (“Grandfathering” in changes to the policy for new families should alleviate dissension, however.)

Still, it’s important to evaluate policies for their intrinsic value to the institution and the students it serves, rather than “simply” for the sake of tradition. Ask yourself: Do your families choose your school based on its mission-based program, or on the discounts you offer? Would mission-focused families leave if you decided to do away with sibling discounts?

“Some families can afford to pay it.”

If your school offers an automatic discount for siblings of currently enrolled students, then it loses the opportunity to evaluate the financial situation of each family. You may be subsidizing families who could afford to pay the full tuition amount for all their children in the first place.

These more affluent families are taking money out of your overall “financial aid” bucket. Other students who truly need those funds are be unable to receive aid, because your money has automatically been allocated elsewhere.

“All the other schools are doing it.”

Some schools live in communities where sibling discounts are commonly distributed; in others, it’s an unheard-of offering. Examining what’s “done” in your region can certainly be helpful in forming a “baseline” of potential expectations in future families.

At the same time, no school should automatically follow another’s lead—not unless those actions conform with your school’s individual mission and vision. So consider: Do your current sibling discounts support your school’s mission? Would instituting such a program promote your mission more than other or current efforts?

Ultimately, ISM believes that sibling discounts undermine efforts to build a stable, strong school community. Such policies hamper your school's ability to help those who truly need it while providing a quality education to all its students.

We'd love to hear your opinion on the topic, though. Does your school offer a sibling discount? Love the idea? Offer alternative forms of financial aid? Let us know in the comment section below or on Twitter!

Are you and your fellow administrators working to make your school fiscally responsible and financially stable? Tune into our webinar, The Dynamics of Flattened Tuition Gradients: Why Does Tuition Outpace Inflation and Can Endowment Really Help?, if you want research-backed ways to properly "price" your school. Join us April 1st, 2015, for a webinar session that will change the way you look at your tuition—no joke!

Additional ISM resources:
Private School News Vol. 13 No. 1 Tuition Remission and You
ISM Monthly Update for Admission Officers Vol. 12 No. 8 Double Trouble: Dealing With Siblings in Your Applicant Pool

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 13 Strategic Financial Aid: Filling the Empty Seat
I&P Vol. 36 No. 4 The Three Types of Need-Based Financial Aid

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