Five Critical Factors for Your School's Future

Independent school leaders often ask me for advice regarding what they should be thinking about to help ensure a financially healthy future. It's a tough and important question, with an answer that's difficult to distill

Oct 26, 2016

Value, value, value
Regardless of your school's mission, budget or enrollment, you must be able to articulate its value to students and their families. This isn't just the job of the head of school, advancement office or admissions staff, it's everyone's job. This weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at the Southern Association of Independent Schools. The speaker in one session asked if there were any admissions officers in the room. In a room filled mostly with heads of school and division heads, one person said, “We're all admissions officers.” Exactly. Everyone must understand and articulate the value of your school, including students, parents and alumni.

Data (knowledge) is power
Melissa Orth, current NBOA Board Chair, makes this statement frequently — and she's right. I understand it takes a great deal of your time and energy to collect school data and enter it into the various databases and NBOA surveys that cross your desk. However, the most important aspect of these efforts is making sense of the data among your school's leadership team. As a business officer, you likely understand data better than anyone at your school. Be the catalyst for discussing this data with your colleagues and developing a shared understanding of what it means for your school. Then, help your colleagues make data-driven decisions based on it.

Invest in your facilities
In this competitive marketplace, your school's facilities may be the most tangible factor setting it apart from other preK-12 choices. If your school has the resources or fundraising capacity, help to ensure that your facilities are aligned with your school's mission and unique program goals, as well as the needs of 21 st century learners. If you don't have these resources, help ensure at a minimum that your facilities are well-maintained and in pristine condition. The care you put into your facilities speaks volumes with regard to the care you provide your students every day.

Net tuition is the only number that truly matters
It is critical for your school leadership, faculty and staff to have a general sense of the financial health of your school. You can share many financial data points, but the number that matters most is your school's net tuition number. Why? Because it is the one number you can track year over year. If it moves in a positive direction, non-financial people can easily surmise that the school's finances are healthy. If it does not, your colleagues will be more apt to get on board with decisions such as increasing certain classes by one to two students, or increasing the number of sections a faculty member teaches. To me, net tuition is the one number that everyone at the school can help impact in a positive way. Help your community understand net tuition, ways they can help improve it and the benefits to the school for doing so.

Schools need business officers to be leaders and strategic partners
This last factor is a biggie. It is no longer sufficient to simply provide your school with competent day-to-day financial management. Your school needs you to be a financial leader and a strategic partner to your head of school, trustees and colleagues. This helps explain why the NBOA Business Office Survey has shown a shift in the most popular title for the business officer role to director, finance and operations (33 percent), followed by chief financial officer (30 percent). Fewer than 20 percent of schools now use what was once the most popular title, business manager.

Words matter, and schools today need more than someone to manage day-to-day business functions. They need leadership. NBOA, as always, is here to help you be the leader your school needs you to be.

From Bottomline, October 25, 2016. 



years is the target ceiling for a school plant's financial "age."

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