Located in Andover, Massachusetts, Phillips Academy is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious residential schools. Founded in 1778, the private school serves over 1,100 students from 44 states and 37 countries.
“Within four days, we had a higher percentage of families responding than we would have had in a month under the old system. The 80% response rate was particularly impressive because we had asked everyone to respond within such a short amount of time.”
– Elliot Hacker, Emeritus Director of Finance and Assistant Treasurer, Phillips Academy
For almost 230 years, Phillips Academy had reviewed applications and admitted students to its residential, co-educational high school in much the same way: families were asked to make their enrollment deposits, then sign and return their enrollment contracts. “Once a student was admitted and we received the $2,000 matriculation deposit, our Admission Office would mail the family an enrollment contract and other materials for completion,” explained Elliot Hacker, Emeritus Director of Finance and Assistant Treasurer for Phillips. “We would typically have a compliance rate of about 60% by the deadline set—which meant we had to follow up with the other 40% of our families, not knowing whether they intended to enroll or not.”
For a school with more than 1,100 students hailing from 44 U.S. states and 37 countries, the traditional method of committing to and paying for tuition and other costs certainly meant other problems as well, including the receipt of numerous contracts completed incorrectly, and confusion among families on full or partial scholarship. Hacker said that because the school had used its own online inquiry and application process for some five years, many parents and families fully expected to be able to commit and pay online. With an uptick in the number of inquiries received about online contracting and payment, he and others at the Academy decided to explore the feasibility and implementation of such a system.
Several phone calls later, Hacker was in touch with the PowerSchool Registration team, which had a growing reputation among independent schools nationwide for its range of online inquiry, application, and enrollment solutions. The online contract module, especially, got the thumbs up from all of the interested departments at Phillips Academy—including Admissions, the MIS team, the Registrar’s office, and the Dean of Student Affairs.
When PowerSchool first sat down with Philips Academy to discuss the development of the solution in November 2009, a significant challenge was immediately discussed. Massachusetts law required two unique electronic signatures to execute an online contract. Historically, Phillips Academy had collected email addresses from just one parent or guardian for each family.
“[The PowerSchool Registration team] was flexible and very helpful in thinking through some work arounds so that the Academy could collect second email addresses from each family, and we could present the contract to two individuals in each case,” said Hacker. A test run with 15 Academy families allowed the PowerSchool Registration team to smooth out all remaining issues, and the first online contracts were delivered to email inboxes in May, 2010.
“Within four days, we had a higher percentage of families responding than we would have had in a month under the old system,” recalled Hacker. “The 80% response rate was particularly impressive because we had asked everyone to respond within such a short amount of time.”
Hacker added that families were universally pleased not only with the new online contract, but with PowerSchool Registration’s customer support as well. “Part of our arrangement with [PowerSchool] is that the company would take phone calls and questions, and provide whatever customer support would be necessary to result in a smooth enrollment process,” Hacker explained. “And I received only the most complimentary of comments.”
A particularly positive experience was reported by members of a Phillips Academy family in Thailand, who were isolated in their home due to civil unrest in that country during the period when enrollment commitments were due. “There was no mail delivery in Thailand for about a week or more, so we would not have been able to communicate with the family doing it the traditional way,” said Hacker. “But with [PowerSchool Registration’s] online contract module, the family was able to return the necessary documents within 24 hours. ”The Phillips Academy “family” was similarly grateful for the new approach. “All of the departments which had given me the green light to retain [PowerSchool Registration] were, I think, as pleased as our students’ families, if not more so,” Hacker added. “With a faster commitment from most families, they had the information and resources to be able to plan for our school year this year with much more confidence than in years past. And we’re talking about a lot of years past!”
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