Even the most fiscally responsible schools encounter problems with collecting unpaid tuition and fees. With the school year starting up again, the collection of tuition or a defaulted payment plan is likely the last thing school personnel want to worry about. However, now is the time to put a plan in place. These simple steps can help set your school up for success in the collection process.
Step #1: Understand and identify - who is liable for the tuition and fees?
In Pennsylvania, parents are generally required to financially support their children until they become emancipated and reach the age of eighteen. Therefore, custodial parents may be held liable for private school tuition and fees of their children. Your school may also use enrollment contracts to define liability upfront. Make sure to thoroughly review your enrollment agreement and identify who is responsible for the tuition and fees of the student. Pursuing the tuition in this situation may be further complicated if the student is an emancipated minor, which is why the enrollment agreement will be especially important.
Step #2: Communication is the key to successfully collecting unpaid tuition and fees.
Whether collecting internally or using a third party for collections, staying in contact with the family can go a long way to resolving the problem. It is important that all communication related to a particular family is centralized and tracked by all relevant school personnel so everyone is on the same page.
Step #3: Tuition can be a sensitive subject, especially when it is not current.
So it is important to be considerate in the language that it is used. It’s often helpful to remind families what their payments are moving forward. This can be an opportunity to reemphasize all the great things about the school that made the family choose it in the first place. Regardless of the method of communication with families, setting regular reminders to check in (especially when there is a default) will keep the payments fresh in the family’s mind.
Step #4: The school’s policies on tuition and payment plans should also be clearly communicated to families upfront.
Doing so will provide a common basis for everyone’s expectations as the family moves through the process. No one wants to default on a child’s tuition, but when it happens, it is important to manage the family’s expectations of what a payment plan would look like. If an agreement is reached, it must be formalized in writing and the school or vendor should monitor the payment deadlines closely to be sure there are no issues and, if any arise, ensure they are resolved quickly.
Step #5: If no agreement is reached and the tuition or fees remain unpaid, it may be time to think about taking further action to protect the financial interest of the school.
A valuable service has been provided to the child and family, at great cost to the school. Allowing delinquencies to continue will only weaken the financial stability of the school. It’s understandable that many schools are hesitant to take action to recover what is owed.
Step #6: In Pennsylvania, schools have a couple of options to leverage payment of delinquent tuition and fees:
- General collection efforts
Schools, directly or through third parties, can attempt to continue basic collection efforts based on what is essentially a broken contractual agreement. The family agreed to pay a certain tuition at certain terms and a school is entitled to enforce that agreement.
- Withholding academic records
Assuming the student has withdrawn or otherwise no longer enrolled, schools can also choose to withhold academic records
(but not medical records) due to an ongoing contractual dispute with the parents/guardian.