Continuous Enrollment: The Pros and Cons

The continuously high re-enrollment numbers at Donna Klein Jewish Academy (DKJA) reflect our efforts to provide the best possible experience for students and families. Yet, until recently, they also meant our staff spent extensive time and energy calling families to track down re-enrollment contracts each year. We would start calling in March—the beginning of our enrollment season—and, sometimes, were still calling and emailing until the first day of school in August.

We knew there had to be a better way. After doing our research and speaking with other schools that had made the switch, we decided to move to continuous enrollment for the 2022–2023 school year.

What is continuous enrollment?

Rather than opt-in re-enrollment, where all parents/guardians must sign new contracts to enroll their children each school year, continuous enrollment is an opt-out process that higher education institutions have used for decades. With continuous enrollment, students are automatically re-enrolled for the following school year unless they notify the school otherwise.

With this approach, families now sign one continuous enrollment contract that remains in effect for the duration of their child(ren)’s enrollment at DKJA.

What are the benefits of continuous enrollment?

More and more private and independent K–12 schools are adopting continuous enrollment and experiencing benefits like these:

  • Reduced paperwork and legwork
  • Increased student retention
  • Earlier confidence in re-enrollment numbers
  • Simplified re-enrollment process for families

At DKJA, we communicated our plans to families well ahead of time, and in the spring of 2022, they signed their first continuous enrollment contracts. Due to this transformational process—which we call “Re-Enrollment Re-Imagined”—we not only had contracts for the 2022–2023 school year, but we also knew our projected enrollment numbers for the 2023–2024 school year much earlier than usual. Thus, our business office could budget further in advance and our administrative team spent less time tracking down contracts. It was a significant improvement over previous years.

What are the challenges of continuous enrollment?

While continuous enrollment has simplified things for families and helped us with budgeting and forecasting, the transition had its challenges.  

  • Admissions had to create a new process to keep track of student withdrawals during the withdrawal period.
  • Families sometimes think everything rolls over, including optional items like lunches, trips, etc. We have to be crystal clear that only enrollment is continuous.
  • Our registrar must issue addendums when families add, remove, or change support services. A student will not be re-enrolled until the addendum is signed.
  • Our business office has to re-enroll students in the tuition management system. 

DKJA uses Blackbaud’s Total School Solution. This means families have one secure login to enroll, pay tuition, and check assignments, schedules, and grades. Once they complete their enrollment contracts, information flows into our tuition management system and triggers the selected payment schedule. Then, those payments flow into our general ledger. When we moved to continuous enrollment, there wasn’t a new contract to trigger tuition payments, and the business office had to activate re-enrollment in the tuition management system. We also had some issues with payment timing. We had set it up to pull electronic payments on the 1st and 20th of the month, yet our re-enrollment withdrawal date for continuous enrollment was March 15th. Thankfully, Blackbaud support was able to help us navigate these challenges, with some things still in the works to accommodate our new processes.

What are some additional considerations?

There are some additional factors to consider when transitioning to continuous enrollment.

Transparency is key.

When implementing a continuous enrollment strategy, transparency is critical to keeping families happy and meeting all legal requirements. At DKJA, we worked with our lawyers to create transparent policies, contracts, and addendums that met our needs and all local, state, federal, and industry guidelines.

Our continuous enrollment contract renews automatically, and families can opt out if their educational needs change. We have our policies clearly posted in the admissions section of our website and communicate them to families throughout the process, including:

  • Opt-out policy and withdrawal dates for families who do not wish to re-enroll for the following year
  • Withdrawal policy and penalties for withdrawing a student after the continuous enrollment withdrawal period
  • Annual commitment deposit policy
  • Policy about who needs to sign the contract 

Every school and locality is different, and I highly recommend that you work with your school’s legal team whenever you explore new policies.

Some circumstances require new contracts.

There are circumstances when a current family must sign a new contract. Some of these include:

  • Enrolling another student
  • Enrolling their returning student in additional support services
  • If there are new or different adults contributing to childcare or household income
  • If the family notifies the school of withdrawal and later decides to re-enroll for the following year

In those instances, new contracts are essential for end-of-year audits. The school also has the option of issuing new contracts if there is a significant change in the policy or the enrollment cycle schedule.

What is the bottom line?

Families have been pleased with continuous enrollment and appreciate the simplified process and reduced paperwork. It has empowered our admissions and business offices with more reliable enrollment forecasting and budgeting. Overall, continuous enrollment has had a positive impact at our school.