Private Schools Balance between Tuition and Contribution Revenue

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Two of the most common revenue streams for private schools are tuition and contribution revenue.  Unfortunately, tuition alone does not cover the cost for private schools to run their programs and maintain their campuses. Contributions are a great addition to tuition for private schools. However, do you know how to account for both revenue sources?

Tuition revenue is accounted for as an exchange transaction that is recognized ratably over the term of the school year net of financial aid. Any money received in advance of revenue recognition treatment being met, should be recorded as deferred revenue liability. See how to account for delinquent tuition payments here.

Contributions are recorded when received or pledged as unrestricted, temporarily restricted, or permanently restricted depending on donor restrictions. Some private schools have capital campaigns that raise funds to improve facilities, initiate new programs, or to build an endowment. Capital campaigns usually have explicit or implied restrictions; the stated objective of the capital campaign usually makes the donor’s restriction clear. Pledges must be carefully reviewed to determine if they are conditional or unconditional. Unconditional pledges should be recognized at fair value as revenue in the year the pledge is made. Conditional pledges are to be recognized as revenue when the conditions are substantially met.

The federal tax code allows taxpayers to deduct contributions or donations made to qualified private nonprofit schools that operate to educate students in the community or serve some other approved purpose. However, a donation made to a nonprofit private school may not qualify for the deduction if the school significantly engages in additional activities that do not relate to charitable, scientific, humanitarian, or religious causes.

A private school may offer a gift or other benefit, such as tuition discounts, in appreciation of a donor’s generosity. Schools that choose to offer discounts should advise donors that they must reduce the deductible value of their donation by the value of all gifts and benefits from the private nonprofit school. For example, providing a $500 gift certificate in appreciation of a $20,000 donation may seem minimal, but it still requires the donor to report a charitable deduction of $19,500 rather than $20,000.

For more information about accounting for private schools or questions, please contact Melissa Musser at Mmusser@aronsonllc.com.

About Melissa Musser

has written 6 post in this blog.

Melissa Musser currently serves as a Manager in Aronson’s Nonprofit & Association Services Group, with 15 years professional experience, including eight years of public accounting with both a regional and Big Four firm. Her professional experience includes five years as a manager of corporate and IT internal audit where she has implemented major transformation initiatives, such as COSO 2013, data analytics, shared service centers and information security. Melissa specializes in providing assurance and consulting services for associations, faith based organizations, independent schools, and other nonprofit service organizations.

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