It is that time of year again…it seems like this phrase is often used in the world of education. I am guessing that all professions have such cyclical periods where certain responsibilities and events happen on a regular basis. In the world of education, it is that time of year again for report cards, parent-teacher conferences, and re-enrollment. The other profession that comes to my mind at the moment is tax accounting (I am writing this as I help my college kids fill out their FAFSA forms and file their taxes).
It is that time of year again…re-enrollment, an anxious time in the life of a school administrator, board, and admissions staff. There are daily shouts of rejoicing when a family we were concerned would not be returning, sends in the form. If you are listening well, you will also hear the disappointing sigh when staff discovers that a family they had spent a lot of time with decides on a different option. Similar to the thrills of Space Mountain at Disneyland or X2 at Magic Mountain, school admissions personnel experience the ups and downs throughout the months of March and April, knowing that a healthy budget for the upcoming academic year depends largely on the success of their efforts.
A common phrase that I sometimes hear from parents during this decision-making time is how much they sacrifice to send their children to the Christian school. Dr. Steve Robinson, former president of the Southern Association of Independent Schools, refers to this conversation as the value proposition families have. (Watch his full presentation here and use password “CCEI”) He challenges schools to consider how they compare on the value scale with the alternative choices available to families. Dr. Robinson frames this conversation on four variables. The first is the family’s ability to pay, a variable not always strongly correlated with their actual ability to pay. The second variable is the perceived value of your school, the value that your school in its entirety (academic, co-curricular, social development, faith development…) adds to their family. The third variable is the perceived value of the alternative schools, whether that be the no-cost alternative of a public school, homeschool, or another private school. The final variable in this conversation is labeled as competing values, the things that the family values that compete with the monies spent on tuition.
As I think about the last variable, the competing values, my mind drifts a bit toward a phrase I often hear when parents are talking about sending their child(ren) to a Christian school. They use the phrase “sacrifice” e.g. “It is a sacrifice that I am willing to make…” I wonder how we can help create a paradigm shift to this conversation to the point where parents are saying “It is an investment that I am excited to make…” Sacrifice, in my mind’s eye, creates a picture of giving something up that hurts you in the process. My biblical frame of reference from the Old Testament is Abraham and Isaac, riding their donkeys to Moriah, knowing that God has just asked Abraham to give up the son that God finally blessed he and Sarah with. Something that Abraham was going to do out of his fearless following of God, out of duty and obedience to his Master. Unbeknown to Abraham, the covenant was never going to be broken.
Many schools ask parents to sign a covenant, a contract of sorts that states parents will agree with the philosophical and theological positions of the school, will pay their tuition on time, will fully support the educational process of the school, etc. At a recent CACE event, one of our speakers challenged the group to think about what it would look like to state the school’s promise to the family. Could the head of school be standing at the exit with a signed document stating what the school promises to provide for the family?
Would such a contract change the paradigm? Would our parents see Christian schools as an investment in something that has exponential and eternal returns? Do your parents know the return on this investment, the profile of a graduate of your Christian school? Is it a profile that they are motivated by, one that makes the value proposition conversation a “no-brainer”? Are you communicating this message during this time of year?
Well, it is time to get back to helping my kids with their taxes. I am trying to help my kids understand that taxes are not a bad thing, trying to change the paradigm that our society has created about taxes and tax time. I don’t mind paying my taxes because I love this country, the state where I live, and the city where I reside. I see my taxes as an investment in the future – in education, for social programs to help those in need, and in the infrastructure and economic growth needed to flourish. But I love paying tuition because I believe that our Christian school delivers on the promise. It is our best investment.
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.