The Value of Communicating Operational & Financial Information
In this article William Scarborough reflects on the importance of proactive community communication and suggests some ways to get ahead.
In my years as an international school business manager, I would often be asked a wide assortment of questions or receive comments, often critical ones, on school practices and decisions. "I hear the [Chinese/American/local] enrollment is really growing." "Why is the school so expensive?" "Teacher turnover seems really high this year! What is wrong?" While I could respond to individuals, these questions circulate widely in the parent community and are usually not answered by the school Board or administration. The failure of schools to respond to these questions affects parent confidence and the school's reputation in the market.
Many schools routinely promote their academic results and university admissions experience. This information is used for marketing to potential students as well as to make current parents feel happy with their decision to enroll. Schools also publish school fees and fee changes and sometimes offer some insight into broad budgeting parameters. You might even encounter a five-year strategic plan on the website though often lacking in specifics on how they will affect students or school fees.
It is less common for schools to provide parents with more detailed financial and operating information, enrollment data, faculty demographics or how certain operating decisions were made. What many schools overlook is that parents and other sponsors, including potential donors, appreciate a greater understanding of the school's operating information and the criteria for making certain decisions.
Publishing this information allows parents to feel confident that school resources are being allocated according to clear principles, that their fees are being used responsibly and that any donations will be dedicated to their intended purposes. Additionally, this information can help them feel more informed about the composition of the student body and the qualifications of the faculty.
School boards and administrations can feel threatened by the disclosure of this information or that their "trade secrets" might be exposed. While it is true that certain information (eg salaries) are confidential, there are many areas for which providing detailed information can be easily and safely published.
The schools in which I have worked have found it helpful to publish details on topics such as the following:
The total average cost of attendance compared to other schools in the city or region. Tuition is usually just one component of school fees. Calculating the total of required fees by grade and then determining the average across grades and comparing this with other schools can be a useful benchmark internally as well for parents.
Enrollment by nationality over a 3-5 year period, turnover and enrollment longevity (tenure). Admissions Offices are often asked how long can they expect their child's cohort to remain at the school. Boards are responsible for determining the nature of the school community including the composition of the student body.
Faculty demographics such as by diploma (Bachelors, Masters, Phd), by age and by gender, years of teaching experience and tenure at the school. Prospective parents are interested in the percentage of faculty with advanced degrees, their years of experience and the average tenure of the faculty.
How the bus service operator or caterer was selected offers some insight into the school's business practices. Are these decisions made in a sensible fashion and without outside influence? It can also be reassuring to parents to understand how the administration ensures their children are transported safely or are offered a healthy and flavorful meal.
Mythbusters - What rumors are circulating in the parent community and what is the "real" story? Does the facilities manager drive a school-purchased Mercedes? Does the school hire unqualified teachers just to recruit their accomplished spouses? Responding to these rumors can be an effective way to mitigate incorrect "gossip" and support the school's objectives.
It is important to select information which is both interesting, useful and supports the school's objectives. A good model for this practice is offered by Singapore American School which considers such information important to prospective and current parents, sponsors and donors.
You'll likely find this to be well-received in the parent and sponsor community, by those who are philanthropically-minded and by prospective parents.