Continuous enrollment is based around the concept where families sign a contract once, with the option to "opt-out" each year, rather than making them complete and sign a full contract each year. In the business world, this is often known as an evergreen, perpetual, or auto-renewing contract.
Understand Benefits & Drawbacks of Continuous Enrollment
Benefits of Continuous Enrollment
Continuous enrollment arose out of schools struggling with difficult manual and paper-based contract and enrollment processes. This can also be true for schools using an online enrollment tool that lacks flexibility with dynamic forms and checklist workflows.
Drawbacks of Continuous Enrollment
The primary drawback is that certain terms, such as tuition and fees, typically change every year. Other fee structure changes may occur such as financial aid or scholarship amounts. Generally, changes to fee structures require parent notice and acceptance, particularly when they are bundled with payment plan options as those are covered under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA).
Other scenarios that should be considered are the enrollment of siblings in the future or what happens in the case of changes to the family structure (divorce, remarry, etc.).
Schools often make other changes to their contract on a regular basis, including adding arbitration clauses or updating new policies. Some policies may be shifted to standard notice, like the student handbook, but most require explicit consent. When the contract is revised, you would either need to make all parents sign the new contract or only have new parents sign the new contract, in which case you will then have multiple contract terms to manage among families.
In EMA's "The Yield, Fall 2018" publication, they talk about the benefits, concerns, and points of consideration around perpetual enrollment agreements.
Use Continuous Enrollment within SchoolAdmin
We see several variations of Continuous Enrollment set up in the SchoolAdmin system, each with different process considerations.
Continuous Process with SchoolAdmin Billing Module
Families sign a contract containing legal language for Continuous Enrollment.
The tuition and fees are displayed on the contract.
Once the contract is signed, a deposit or registration fee can be collected and the parent can enroll into AutoPay.
The contract form does not display legal contract language
The contract form displays the tuition and fees and provides the ability for the parent to select the desired payment plan.
Once the contract is signed, a deposit or registration fee can be collected and the parent can update AutoPay information, if necessary.
Continuous Process with 3rd-Party Tuition Management
Families sign a contract containing legal language for Continuous Enrollment. The contract links to a published fee schedule.
A deposit or registration fee can be collected via SchoolAdmin or deferred to be collected via a 3rd-party billing system.
The family completes any additional registration and enrollment forms.
School handles billing 100% within Smart, FACTS, or other 3rd-party billing solution.
Returning families do not complete or sign a new contract or view Tuition & Fees within SchoolAdmin.
The school can optionally use SchoolAdmin to collect additional forms for registration and enrollment for returning students.
This works well when the fee structure is fairly basic with few discounts and additional fees. This scenario also works well when there are rarely changes to policies or the legalese of a contract that need to be communicated to families.
Continuous Process with FACTS Integration
Families sign a contract containing legal language for Continuous Enrollment. A deposit or registration fee is collected via SchoolAdmin upon contract submission.
The tuition and fee schedule is displayed on the contract. Once the contract is signed, these fees are automatically passed to FACTS.
The family then completes any additional registration or enrollment forms, like release forms, in SchoolAdmin.
Returning families do not view or sign a full contract.
Returning families view and confirm the tuition and fee schedule. This information is required for it to be sent to FACTS via their API.
This works well when the school wants to use the SchoolAdmin Tuition & Fees engine or does not wish to recreate fees inside of FACTS. For some schools, this may also resolve concerns over TILA or transparency of fees.
Tips & Best Practices
Engage your legal team.
Always talk with your legal team before updating your contract and processes. State laws vary so what works for your school may not work for another.
Review your goals and identify areas where your process can be streamlined to reduce work.
In other words, you should consider the following: Where do parents get stuck in the process? Are there easier, smaller changes that could eliminate many issues? Some ways to streamline your process include:
Separate your contract, Tuition & Fees agreement, and TILA from your other enrollment forms. Registration forms like sports sign-ups and field trip waivers should be independent of your contract. These can be created as custom enrollment forms instead and moved to their own checklist items.
Are you asking for information each year that isn’t necessary? SchoolAdmin supports a powerful set of dynamic checklist items or dynamic content, forms, and fields so that only the necessary information is collected.
Review your contract language history. Are you changing your contract and policies every few years? If so, talk through the implications of a perpetual process and how you will communicate changes to policy and collect consent to new addenda, if needed.
How do you handle communication around billing information and Truth in Lending (TILA) if they are separate from the contract? What happens if the parent disputes the tuition and fees because they need to see or approve the amount in future years; for example, if the financial aid amount changed after the renewal deadline date?
What policies will you need to update to support new processes? For example, what kind of notice of renewal period will you provide? Will you notify parents 30 or 60 days in advance of the annual deadline? How will you handle a situation when a parent does not notify you that they do not wish to return? How will you collect and verify notice from parents that they are not returning? What happens in the case of split households?
How will you manage the change from your existing process to the new process?
A well-designed enrollment process can remove much of the friction to getting signed contracts and deposits, and provide clear information to your families while only gathering the most critical information necessary to enroll the student.
While the enrollment process may have been more time-consuming with paper contracts, the modern electronic forms, pre-population, dynamic checklists, and automated reminders available in SchoolAdmin make the re-enrollment process quite easy and streamlined for both families and the school.
Because of concerns around contract maintenance and compliance, reducing disputes, changing family situations, and better data capture within SchoolAdmin, it is our view that getting a new contract signed annually is to everyone's benefit.
MISBO - The Re-Enrollment Contract - To Do, or Not to Do - A good overview of what to consider with continuous contracts along with feedback from education legal experts.