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Increasing Accessibility and Affordability: George Mason Family Weekend

Financial Wellness Parent and Family Relations
December 22, 2015 Kristen Wright Associate Director Family Programs & Services

Every October, Orientation and Family Programs and Services hosts its annual Family Weekend program at George Mason University, which includes a variety of academic, social, fine arts and athletic events designed to give families a glimpse into life at Mason. This year’s event was a great success and saw both an increase in attendance, with our largest numbers to date, as well as new campus partnerships.

Using data to inform our decision-making when preparing for Family Weekend is a key part of our planning process.  At the conclusion of each Family Weekend, our Family Programs team, comprised of an Associate Director and a Graduate Assistant, evaluates the event using both attendee and stakeholder evaluations. These tools give us a better sense of the successes of the event, as well as areas of improvement for future years. As we evaluated our 2014 program to plan for 2015, we noticed growing concerns over the cost of attending Family Weekend.

In planning for our 2015 Family Weekend, we wanted to make sure our program was affordable and accessible for all of our Mason families. We re-evaluated our fee structure and implemented a complete overhaul of how families register and pay to attend Family Weekend.   Our increased focus on the accessibility and affordability of Family Weekend caused our participant numbers to increase by 59% from 2014 to 2015.

In the past, our fee structure was based around a package price where families would pay one fee and receive a variety of meals and event tickets for one cost.  This year we created a $5 access pass that would provide families with parking, discounts at various on-campus and off-campus dining locations, and admission to all events on the schedule that were marked as free events. Families who wanted to participate in additional dinners or other special events such as bus tours or our 5K run/walk had the option to do so and pay a la carte for those events. This change allowed families to pay only for the events they wanted to attend and also reduced the cost of attendance per family significantly.

While moving from a package-based fee structure to an a la carte model provided an opportunity for us to capture participants that we may not have in the past, the process also came with a variety of challenges.  Calculating ticket prices and projecting revenue to ensure program costs were covered meant lots of spreadsheets, number crunching and uncertainty. 

A fair amount of risk was involved in implementing a considerable change in our fee structure, but it was all worth it to have a weekend that was more accessible and affordable for our Mason families. 

Author Bios

Kristen Wright is a second year graduate student in the Higher Education program at George Mason University and also serves as the Graduate Assistant for Family Programs and Services. Before joining George Mason, Kristen served as the Director of the Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service for The Fund for American Studies in Washington, DC, as well as the coordinator of the IMPACT Conference.

Kaitlin Cicchetti is the Associate Director for Family Programs and Services at George Mason University and has served as the primary coordinator for Family Weekend at Mason since 2011. Previous to her time at Mason, Kaitlin worked at the University of West Florida with both orientation and family programs and services, and established the university’s first Family Weekend program.