Every parent wants their child to receive the best education possible - so that they are positioned for success later in life. Often, this means electing for private or independent schooling.
Unlike their state-run equivalents, by accepting an enrolment position at a private school, parents are also entering into an agreement to pay school fees.
But as we all know sometimes circumstances change, and parents may struggle to keep on top of their payments. Ultimately, whilst late and bad debts can have a negative and far reaching impact on any school, the way it’s handled can reflect significantly on your school’s brand – for better or worse.
In this blog, we talk to Kenton Newall from Cole School Experts, and Kevin Butler from School EasyPay, to find out what to consider when reviewing your school’s debt collection procedures.
Four Ways to Ensure Your School Has an Efficient Fee Collection Process
1. Be Proactive!
Be proactive in your response to late payers by having an early identification and engagement strategy.
“If there are slow payers or families struggling financially, early action and frequent communication will ease the difficulties for both parties. Don’t allow tuition fees & charges to go unpaid for an extended period,” says Kenton Newall.
“Make sure that your school has a debtor management process in place and that staff follow it.”
Ensuring that parents are well informed of payment options and have the necessary support is vital. Working with parents to understand and overcome issues can significantly increase the likelihood of collecting unpaid fees, while ensuring the student’s best interests are kept at the forefront.
2. Review Your Enrolment Policies and Contracts
A school's enrolment contract is much more than a way to inform the enrolling family of the school's policies and code of conduct; the enrolment contract is a legally binding contract and therefore must be able to withstand judicial scrutiny.
It is vital that your enrolment contract outlines specific obligations and processes when it comes to the collection of school fees.
“In the event of disputes, such as unpaid fees, the enrolment contract will be the basis of any fee recovery action. It is therefore critically important that its terms clearly outline the relationship between the school and the student’s parents or guardian.”
Paul recommends that schools also disclose fee recovering circumstances in their enrolment contracts; including situations where the child's education has been disrupted.
Other key terms that Paul recommends a school consider when creating their contracts include:
- Disability discrimination laws
- Family law court orders
- Recent legislative amendments
- Parent Code of Conduct.
An enrolment contract that is ambiguous can cost your school thousands.
Paul spoke to The Educator in late 2019 about a South Australian Independent School which was unable to recover almost $20,000 in unpaid fees due to contract deficiencies.
3. Use Payment Scheduling and Automation!
Payment scheduling and automation simplifies the payment process for both parties. Both Kevin and Kenton are big fans of this method!
“Online portals, with a variety of payment methods and plans, involves both the parent and the school Finance Team in an efficient fee collection process,” says Kenton.
Kevin believes that use of direct debit and a good, automatic payment process can make all the difference.
There are many benefits to introducing automation into your debt collection process, we’ve listed some of our favourites:
a. Self-Servicing Parents
An online platform where parents can setup and maintain their own payment options means more convenience for them and less admin time for you.
An online platform should also be PCI compliant, reducing the risks associated with holding credit card or bank details locally at your school.
b. Set and Forget
Kevin recognised that often a school’s approach to billing can be summarised by ‘here’s the bill, please pay’. As a result, schools then end up with numerous one-off payment methods such as BPAY, EFT, over the counter cash etc.
“With parents leading increasingly busy lives, one-off payment methods can mean that all too often parents end up on arrears list even though they have the means and desire to pay on time,” says Kevin.
These payment options rely on parents remembering to pay, pay on time, pay the correct amount and use the correct reference.
Automation can give your parents a break and allows them to ‘set and forget’.
c. Improved Cashflow and Financial Forecasting
It can be difficult to know precisely when you are going to receive your funds, particularly if your school bills once, annually.
Payment schedule automation provides predictable, trackable income – improving the accuracy of your school’s financial reporting and forecasting.
d. Improved Customer Service
Ongoing and personalised communication is extremely important for busy parents.
With payment automation and scheduling you can automatically send personalised payment reminders and notifications without the hassle of drafting individual emails.
This allows you to keep on top of your debtor management, maintain healthy relationships with your community and reduce the potential wait time for payments.
e. Increased Efficiency
With your cashflow forecasted and your communication taken care of, there's not much you need to worry about with those parents who have opted into payment automation. So, you can redirect your energy and proactively manage and target those who don’t use automation. This not only saves a huge amount of time but also improves your efficiency.
“It is not unusual for a collector’s productivity to double, triple, or even quadruple after collection automation is in place,” says Dean Kaplan from The Kaplan Group.
4. Know When to Use a Collections Agency
Using a Collections Agency should be a last resort. Implementing efficient and effective payment methods upfront will greatly eliminate the need for collections agencies – saving the school money and time.
Although, sometimes there are some battles you just can’t win.
When considering a partnership with a Collections Agency, it’s important to establish a good business relationship and mutual understanding prior to engaging.
This protects and preserves your brand and community. Any agency that you engage with will be contacting parents from within your community and it’s vital that your school’s brand and relationships are not damaged by the actions of a partner.
Ensure that your proposed agency has a solid understanding of your school’s values and employs morally and ethically correct approaches to collections.
“Collection agencies with school experience will also understand when the collection process can be directly linked back to the enrolment process and policies,” says Kenton.
A good collections agency will be able to go over your enrolments contract and advise you of any loopholes that may need tightening to minimise the risk of a repeat situation.
Having an effective Finance Team is the first step to making fee collection a little less daunting.
Where possible, use the power of payment scheduling software and automation to give staff breathing space. Engage debtors with empathy and respect and ensure any third parties you work with are committed to preserving and protecting your school’s brand.
With those steps considered, you’re well on your way to an efficient fee collection process!
In Version 52, we will be introducing Online Parent Payment Schedules to the TASS software with the help from our partners at School EasyPay – to encourage parents to be proactive in managing their accounts, and to cut some operational effort for your school’s Finance Team.
Coming in April 2020!
A big thank you to Kenton Newall from Cole School Experts and Kevin Butler from School EasyPay for collaborating with us on this blog.