School fees are usually set by the finance team, approved by the board and leadership teams, and managed by the business office. Plenty of effort and consideration is put into setting the fees each year. Lots of time is spent sending statements, processing fees, and chasing payments. This is all important and necessary work within a school.
But how often does your school think intentionally about school fees beyond these common functions? Such as thinking about the broader impact of school fees on the enrolment journey for prospective families? Or the influence of fees on brand loyalty and student retention? Or going beyond the fee levels and financials to think about the overall fee experience? And what role the marketing and admissions team might have to play with school fees?
If you are in school leadership, these are some of the things I challenge you to think about. If you are a school marketer or in the admissions team, my challenge is to go against the common misconception that the fees are simply a function of the finance and business teams, but to think how you can take part in the broader conversation about fees.
Here’s a few points to get you thinking about these things.
Effective engagement at key touch points
Let’s start with what should be a glaringly obvious reason why school marketers need to be more involved with school fees. The ‘Fees’ page on a school website is typically one of the most popular pages on the website – usually top ten, often top five. So a vast proportion of your prospective customers are visiting the fees page, which means it is a key touch point and therefore represents an excellent opportunity to engage effectively with them.
As a marketer, you want to put in most effort on your website into the pages that are most popular. No doubt, many schools put in effort with the messaging on the fees page, place a nice photo, maybe even a quote from a happy parent – all this is important, but it is somewhat peripheral to the actual information the user is on that page to find – the fees, the actual numbers.
For most schools, this is where the effective engagement stops – traditionally the fees are presented in a table or a nicely designed PDF for download. These methods deliver the raw information, but lack engagement by todays standards and don’t meet expectations of a ‘good online experience’ for GenZ and Millennial customers. And importantly, the visitor remains anonymous meaning that the school may not get another chance to engage with the user beyond this key touch point, which essentially represents a missed opportunity to engage well with them.
Andrew Cockburn, Marketing Director at Hillcrest Christian College knew this all too well, saying, “Families were just downloading fee information and making a judgement about the school without gaining any real value. So you want to change that and make it a value exchange.”
“Families were just downloading fee information and making a judgement about the school without gaining any real value.”
School marketing and admissions teams should be thinking about ways to change this and looking for innovative ways to engage at all of the key touchpoints in the enrolment journey. To find out how Hillcrest improved engagement in their fee experience, read their customer story.
The fundamentals of the marketing mix
There’s a reason that the fees page is so popular on a school website – price is always going to be important in any purchasing decision. Schools may not like the idea of putting a ‘price’ on their education offering, but if you boil it down – parents are essentially making a purchasing decision, a very big one indeed, and among the many things they need to consider is price.
It is helpful to think on this level as after all, ‘Price’ is one of the core elements of a solid marketing mix.
We won’t dive into the marketing mix right now (see 4 P’s of marketing or ‘5 P’s’ of marketing), but it follows that if you don’t involve school marketing teams in the strategy and execution of school fees – the price – you are missing one of the fundamental elements of the marketing mix, and therefore not delivering a comprehensive marketing strategy for the school.
Taking into consideration the ever increasing cost of living and ongoing financial pressures on families, only further emphasises the importance of price in the purchase decision for education. In addition, a number of recent reports^ confirm that families are thinking about the cost of education years ahead of enrolment, so it’s safe to say that school fees are top of mind for parents when they first engage with a school.
Your admissions and enrolment team could no doubt verify that the fees, the price of your offering, comes up in most conversations with prospective families. With this in mind, marketing and admissions teams need to be thinking strategically about how to communicate and deliver fee information beyond the factual numbers and think into the broader fee experience.
Brand loyalty and retention
The numbers have an impact on the brand – it would be naive to think otherwise. The price you set, and the way this is communicated impacts the initial brand interactions for prospective families, but importantly, it also shapes the brand for current families.
“…every time the new fees are released, it is like re-engaging again with current families on price.”
Most schools increase fees each year, and thus, every time the new fees are released, it is like re-engaging again with current families on price. No-one likes price increases – so effort and intention is needed to effectively communicate the fee increase, so as not to erode the brand in the minds of your community.
Again, this is an opportunity for school marketing teams to step in and play a role – don’t just watch while the business office sends out the new year fee statements. Think strategically about how to communicate the increases through careful messaging and innovative technology that makes it simple, transparent, and even offers effective budgeting tools to help families plan.
Do this well, and you’ll build brand loyalty, boost student retention and create brand advocates who champion your school in the community.
The paradox of delivering excellent fee experiences
An interesting paradox exists here – the more effort you put into your fee strategy, the less impact fees will have on the purchase decision. If you put in intentional effort and strategic thinking into school fees beyond the common financial functions, and involve marketing to help deliver an engaging and transparent fee experience, the fees actually become much less of a dominant factor in the purchase decision.
“…the more effort you put into your fee strategy, the less impact fees will have on the purchase decision.”
Emily Savery, Registrar at Hillcrest Christian College found this to be true saying, “One question I rarely get is “how much are your fees?” because they’ve already gone and done the Fee Calculator…”. With the Feesable Fee Calculator as part of their fee experience, Emily spends less time handling requests about fees and more time in personal interactions with families who have already worked out they can afford the college. Read the Hillcrest customer story to find out more.
This is really what you want, since after all, the fees shouldn’t be the reason a family chooses your school – there are so many other more important factors that should have greater weight on their decision.
The challenge for school marketers is to subtly confront the factor of price by using innovative ways that deliver the information families need in a simple and engaging way which will ultimately build trust and ideally remove the price from the decision as much as possible.
The paradox also applies equally to current families – if you communicate fee increases well and provide innovative tools that offer transparent information, it will take the focus off the bad news of fee increases and solidify the reasons they chose your school in the first place.
Find the right balance and start now
School marketers – you have a unique opportunity to shape the conversation about school fees and how this impacts the overall brand experience, so I challenge you to work out you can best contribute in this area.
School leaders – take the opportunity to involve your marketing and admissions team in fee strategy, particularly at this time of year when next year fees are being set – what a fantastic opportunity to work out how to bring the marketing team into the conversation.
Each school will of course differ in how best to bring their marketing and admissions teams into the fee strategy. In some schools with no dedicated marketing resources, it may simply be a case of the leadership putting on their marketing hats, not just the finance hat, when thinking about fees. For other schools, it will be important to work out what role marketing has with fees and the broader impact that can have.
In any case, I encourage you to start now. This week, or maybe even today, a prospective family will be looking for your fees.
Don’t miss out on the big opportunity to engage effectively with prospective families on the fees web page or other key touch points.
Remember how important price is in the decision making process, even in education.
Make the most of the fee changes for next year and build your brand with your current community.
Remember the paradox – put your focus on delivering an excellent fee experience, and you’ll take the focus off fees and help your customers focus on what is most important.
^ Real Education Report 2022 – Real Insurance, March 2022