Announcing a Tuition Increase: Write a Benefit-Based Letter

Vol. 15 No. 1

trustees eletter vol15 no1 moneyroad

Typically, those involved in setting and announcing tuitions fear that parents will complain and rebel at any increase. Will you lose families? Will there be angry telephone calls and demands for meetings? Will there be negative feedback on social media? You need not worry if you plan your announcement in a way that highlights your reasonable cause for raising tuition—the benefits for the students.

Announce tuitions in a letter to current parents, with a tuition chart. You will also want to create and attach the data sheet referenced in the letter. The letter should be signed by the person who has the most “clout” with constituents—you, the School Head.

The letter is your opportunity to give the rationale behind the tuition increase. Recognize that everyone expects schools to need to raise tuitions each year (and you should!). When you understand the way parents think about your school, you can draft a letter that not only states the price, but reinforces the value they get for their tuition “investment.”

Simply remind parents that to stay even, your tuition income for the 12 months (ending in June of next year) must account for inflation. In addition, share with them the 2%+ rule on “disguised” inflation. These factors alone mean that to stay current in 3% inflation, you must recast your tuition figure(s) by a minimum of 5%. Emphasize the term “recasting.” This is what you are doing: converting “old” dollars into “new.”

There is no need to apologize for new tuition figures. Don’t include statements like, “We are sorry to inform you ....” Give parents the essential parts of the data you used to set next year’s tuition. Stress that if the quality of your school’s program is compromised, their children lose.

If you are going to increase tuition beyond the recasting, let parents know why the added funds are needed. Tell them, for example, that you have recast tuition by 5% and have added 2% largely to increase teacher salaries. Distinguish between the need for recasting and the reasons behind any increase.

Consider the following tips as you develop your own letter.

  1. Personalize the letter by using the parents’ names—first names, if this fits your school’s culture. A “Dear Parent” salutation diminishes your relationship with them. The parent needs to know that this letter is for her or him as an individual and that you care about the family.
  2. Ensure the tuition you charge is part of a plan, and the plan is transparent to your constituents. How you present this document publicly is a function of your own culture, but it should be accessible, e.g., through your website.
  3. Tell parents about your school’s finances, without belaboring the point. For many schools, tuition does not cover the operating costs—and the projected increase will not change that fact. If your school does cover 100% of its expenses with hard income (tuition, fees, and other billed items, this shows your exceptional stewardship.
  4. Sell the value of the tuition increase. Even where you anticipate nothing new, stress the ability of tuition to provide the best possible faculty, program that delivers the mission, and various opportunities for the child to grow. Where tuition provides funds over and above covering inflation, you can really get excited about what’s new and upcoming. What can parents and their children look forward to, and how will they benefit?
  5. Explain how most students at the school will benefit. Parents have more sympathy for expenses that benefit other children at the school, even if those funds do not directly benefit their child.
  6. Let parents know that financial aid available, even if they don’t need it. Indicate that any family that finds the increase to be a true burden is invited to apply for financial aid. In doing so, you reinforce for parents that you do not intend tuition to be a barrier to remaining at the school. This sense of “belonging”—the message that the school is concerned about supporting must be addressed in this letter. (You may also want to send a variation of the announcement letter to families currently receiving financial aid.)
  7. In the final paragraph, portray confidence and address the stability and viability going into the future. This should not be a “schmooze” statement. Focus on how the increase in tuition helps the faculty, staff and Board better serve families, and how it ensures a stronger future for the school.
  8. Create an enclosure or attachment setting out the tuition new rates. For schools with a single, schoolwide tuition, that figure can be included in the first paragraph. However, if there are any complicating factors at all—e.g., division- or grade-level pricing, payment plans, half-day options—don’t incorporate myriad numbers or tables in the letter.

The enrollment form should not go with the tuition announcement letter. That document should follow two to four weeks later so the discussion about money has a chance to die down and parents can make their re-enrollment decision based on value, not price.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 2 Cutting Tuition is Not the Answer—Keep Your School Accessible

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 38 No. 14 Erroneous Premises Employed in Tuition Setting
I&P Vol. 40 No. 2 Consolidate and Coordinate Your Parent Communications
I&P Vol. 40 No. 7 The Dynamics of Flattened Tuition Gradients: Endowments and Other Revenue Won’t Help

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