Category CSE Magazine
Title Imagine
Author/s Alan Pue, EdD
Preview Christian schools are right to be concerned about the impact of continuously rising tuition. But unless schools build the right kind of strong, sustainable financial base, they won't be able to make any real reductions in tution rates without putting themselves at greater financial risk.

Imagine the impact on your enrollment if you could reduce tuition by 50 percent while doubling your financial aid. Consider what might happen if such a decision caught the attention of your local news media. Now imagine that despite sharply reduced tuition rates you still have enough money to provide a world-class education. Imagine.

Are you intrigued? I hope so because this is not just an exercise in wistful thinking. It is a matter of survival. I don't think there is much risk in predicting that Christian schools must find a way to keep themselves financially accessible or there are going to be far fewer schools in 10 years.

If, however, you are willing to follow the lead of schools such as Harvard, Duke, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, Yale, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, and Emory, you could actually reduce your tuition and still provide a quality education. Impossible, you say. Not really. Consider this single fact. The University of Texas system could provide all its undergraduate students free tuition if it would simply increase what it takes from its endowment by less than an additional 1 percent per year.

Still unconvinced? Then let me ask you again to exercise your imagination a bit. Imagine, for example, how much more difficult it will be to recruit and retain quality teachers as the difference between what you can pay and what the local public school district can pay continues to widen. That problem is already real, but it is only going to worsen as the number of boomers reaching retirement age increases steeply over the next 5 to 10 years, a situation that is intensifying the competition in hiring quality teachers.

Let's continue this exercise a bit. Imagine what happens to your enrollment as school choice options, including home schooling and charter schools, grow in popularity. Now further imagine the impact from rapidly changing demographics in all regions of the country or from yet unforeseen advances in technology or from increasing hostility as our culture drifts even further from its Judeo-Christian roots or from declining church support. Now are you ready to imagine a new funding paradigm, one radically different from current practice?

But, you ask, what would a new paradigm look like?

Fair question. After all, I suspect that you've already implemented just about every thoughtful funding idea you've ever heard. First, you made the switch from candy sales to an annual fund built around a professional development strategy. Next, you adopted the idea of cost-based tuition. Those were wise and essential first steps. But even with those changes, you are still finding it difficult to fully bridge your current funding gap, much less the chasm that lies ahead. Nor can you appropriately compensate your teachers or keep up while costs related to technology, facilities, and curriculum just keep climbing. 

Next Steps 

Let's be honest. Financing Christian schools has always been a challenge. So, given that the cost of providing education will continue to increase, is there any real hope for a solution?

The answer, of course, is yes. But it is not a simple, easy yes. You can't attend a three-day seminar and walk away with a plan to build sustainable funding. That is both naive and unrealistic. It is equally unrealistic to assume that your current and future funding needs are going to be met by the same people who struggle to pay your tuition. After all, we are not talking about raising an extra hundred thousand or two. We are talking about millions of dollars.

I hope I have your attention. Both compassion and excellence come with a price. You can't just give away education. Someone always pays. In most of our schools, that someone is usually our classroom teachers and administrative staff. As costs continue to escalate, however, even that sacrifice isn't going to be enough. Harvard and the other schools I listed earlier were able to lower their tuition and largely eliminate student loans because long ago those institutions discovered a new funding paradigm. Here are four thoughts for forging that new path. 

Step One: Discard Your Old Wineskins

I can't state the step of discarding your old wineskins forcefully enough. Business as usual must end in Christian schools. Though we dare not surrender our nonnegotiables, when it comes to organizational practice, nothing should escape intense scrutiny. Schools such as Harvard and Yale have been able to make radical changes in their pricing policies because they have done two things well. First, they have consistently practiced wise fiscal planning. Second, they have aggressively built strong resource development programs, particularly in the areas of planned giving and endowment. You can afford to be generous when your endowment, like Harvard's, exceeds thirty-six billion dollars. Christian schools are right to be concerned about the impact of continuously rising tuition. But unless schools build the right kind of strong, sustainable financial base, they won't be able to make any real reductions in tuition rates without putting themselves at greater financial risk. Thirty-six billion may be out of your reach, but ten, twenty, or even fifty million or more is not.

Step Two: Ignite the Imagination and Passion of People

If you are honest, you'll probably admit that support for your school among local churches and in your community is not a strong as you would like. That situation is unlikely to change until school leaders commit themselves aggressively to the role of what Max Dupree calls tribal storyteller. You've got to break away from your desk and from your campus at every opportunity to remind people of the essential work being accomplished at your school. To do that, you've got to tell stories that focus on impact rather than input. People need to know that your school is making a significant difference in the lives of its students and that your graduates are becoming difference makers in the world. The way to a person's heart and mind is not through statistics; it is through stories-compelling stories, well told.

Step Three: Establish and Sustain Strategic Partnerships

If you are going to fulfill this goal, you must do two things well. First, you must identify specific kinds of key people: people of wisdom, wealth, and influence. This task is less difficult to do than you might think, but you do need to know what to look for and how to make first contact. Then you must win their hearts. Doing so takes a winsome spirit, those compelling stories I just mentioned, and time. The kinds of partnership I envision don't happen overnight. You must also remember two key principles. First, you must remember that wealthy people don't give- they invest. And they invest in kingdom work the same way they invest in the stock market. They invest where they believe they will see the greatest return on their investment. Therefore, they've got to have confidence in your ability to deliver on your promise. Second, you must remember that wealthy people typically fund their personal passion, not yours. Your task, therefore, is to infect them with your passion.

Step Four: Initiate and Cultivate an Effective, Integrated Resource Development Strategy

There is a lot to learn before you can genuinely help people become wise stewards. There are complex financial and personal dynamics at work when people are thinking about how to manage and dispose of their estates. Tax laws must be considered, as well as personal life situations such as the possible need for long-term care. It takes continually increasing knowledge of planned giving strategies and ever-deeper understanding of people if you are going to help any person make wise decisions about giving. Now is the time to initiate that education.

Perhaps you are beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility I've outlined. If so, let me ask you once again to engage your imagination. Only this time I want you to imagine a world without strong Christian schools.

Imagine a world in which parents lose their strongest ally in equipping their children. Imagine those children without a true community of faith and learning, without a dynamic place where they learn from remarkable teachers to "take every thought captive ... to Christ." Imagine our current culture left with fewer examples of "salt and light." Imagine sending your students into the challenging environment of a secular university without strong academic preparation and a well-developed Christian worldview. Imagine. Now act. 


Belz, Joel. 2007. Gloomy outlook for vouchers. World Magazine 22, no. 43 (November 24).

Gamerman, Ellen. 2007. How to get into Harvard. Wall Street Journal (November 30).

Hechinger, John. 2007. Harvard trims tuition bills for families. Wall Street Journal (December 11).

Marklein, Mary Beth. 2007. Top-tier colleges ease cost burden. USA Today (December 10).

Munson, Lynne. 2007. College tuitions rise while endowments simply swell. USA Today (October 18). 

Alan Pue, EdD, is the president of the Barnabas Group, a ministry that specializes in providing strategic planning and resource development assistance to churches, Christian schools, and colleges. Dr. Pue formerly served as a Christian school headmaster, a senior pastor, and the senior vice president and the provost of the Master's College. 

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