As inflation and the cost of labor continue to increase, so too does the cost of an independent school education. At the same time, a continual decline in the number of Americans going to college — driven by declining birth rates, the widespread immediate availability of jobs and the cost of higher education — may create a challenge for schools that traditionally attracted students on a college-preparatory track. How can independent schools develop a sustainable business model that adapts to the challenges of a global economy? What are the benefits of broadening a school’s reach to non-traditional audiences? And how can schools prepare students for the working world while preserving to their missions and values?
School business leaders at Canterbury School, The Williston Northampton School, The Hotchkiss School, The Dalton School and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, all of whom are in the 2021-22 cohort of the NBOA Leadership Academy, addressed these questions and more at the 2022 NBOA Annual Meeting in the deep dive, “Business Leadership and the Future of Independent Schools: Exploring the ‘What If?’” In their presentation, the speakers provided perspectives on implementing partnerships and non-tuition revenue strategies to enhance schools’ value proposition. The following two models reflect these business leaders’ research and case studies, developed as part of the 2021-2022 NBOA Leadership Academy cohort:
College partnerships may offer opportunities for independent school students to earn college credit and access typically bigger facilities, such as the college library or science labs. These partnerships may also bring opportunities for shared staffing and advanced education for independent school faculty and staff. Questions to explore when considering developing a partnership with a college or university:
- What would the buy-in be for our specific community?
- What incentives can your school offer a college or university?
- What level of separation do you have with the college (i.e., if a scandal associated with the college emerges, how does the school ensure it’s not involved with that)?
Partnerships with local businesses and corporations provide a training ground for students to either pursue real-world careers out of high school or carry technical skills with them to college. For example, students may be invited
to go on factory tours and meet other professionals in their community. These programs can also be a great way to engage alumni or other donors that work in partnering businesses and to attract new donors. Additional opportunities include
extending professional development to faculty and staff who may want to grow their skills in areas like robotics or 3-D printing. Questions to explore:
- How will the school set entry and participation levels for corporate partners?
- What incentives can your school offer a business?
- What level of separation do you have with the business?
Once a school decides to engage in a partnership with an outside organization, schools are advised to formalize a governance structure or decision-making entity that oversees intellectual property. Additionally, schools will need to develop a communication strategy to ensure they clearly outline which party leads the effort; and a legal strategy to define a timeframe for the partnership and how to unwind or dissolve the partnership. From there, school leaders can begin outlining operational, financial and staffing objectives.