Terina Foran of St. Petersburg says moving her son to a private Christian school made a “huge difference” in his grades and self-confidence. She wanted to do the same for her daughter, but the cost of two tuitions would stretch household finances too thin. So when Foran heard a radio promotion that offered listeners a chance to get half off a year's tuition for new students at select faith-based schools, she jumped into action. Three family members, using two land lines and two cellphones, started calling at 8 a.m. “on the dot” March 27 when the first-come, first-served promotion launched on WTBN (570 AM and 910 AM). Her brother got through first, and the Forans won the reduced price on a $9,000 a year tuition.
Now 10-year-old Taylor, currently in public school, will get to join 13-year-old brother Braden at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg next fall. “It's a huge blessing,” says Foran, a nurse. “The school offers an environment that is more conducive to our beliefs. We feel this is the right place for our children, and now it's more affordable.” The “Tuition Solution” promotion is part of a national campaign by Salem Communications, which operates nearly 100 radio stations. In the Tampa Bay and Sarasota areas, Salem owns four stations heard in 22 counties. It works like this: Participating Christian schools provide the station with one school tuition, and in return they get the dollar value in marketing, such as advertising in the company's Faith Talk magazine, radio spots, sponsored events and digital products. The station then sells the tuition (available to new students only) at half the cost, generating revenue for Salem and providing a much-needed discount to parents like Foran. “It's a win-win-win situation for everyone involved,” says Tampa general manager Barb Yoder. “Shrinking budgets mean less marketing dollars for schools. This is a partnership that's going to increase their exposure in the community and add a new student to their school family.” Yoder says the station was “overwhelmed” with calls when the sale opened. Eighteen schools and seminaries were part of the initial promotion, offering a limited number of tuitions. Some of them include: Bell Shoals Baptist Academy in Brandon, Grace Christian School in Tampa, Word of Life Fellowship Inc. in Hudson and Classical Christian School for the Arts in Pinellas Park. Other schools have since contacted the station to partner in the program. What had originally been planned as a one-day sale will now be ongoing, she says, with participating schools listed on the station's website, www.bayword.com. “The interest is there on both sides,” Yoder says. “We feel a little like Santa Claus, making so many people happy.” Count Amanda Schwartz among them. Four years ago, the guidance counselor from Sarasota was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. After undergoing extensive treatments, she's a survivor but is now saddled with “an extraordinary amount of medical debt.” All those bills mean that she and her husband could not afford to send their 10-year-old daughter, Aleah, to a Christian school, as they had hoped. After hearing about the Tuition Solution on WLSS (930 AM), she got on the station's website and found out that Sarasota Christian School was on the list of partners. Schwartz started dialing the station number the morning of the promotion and was the first to claim that school's tuition offer. Her cost for the 2013-2014 school year will be $4,600, instead of $9,200. “It's such a relief,” she says. “To us, it's really important to have our daughter in a Christian atmosphere, where she can freely learn about God and be around teachers who openly love the Lord. This just means the world.” But what about next year? Even if the promotion is still offered, it's only available to new students. “I try not to get too uptight about the future, because things have a way of working out,” Schwartz says. “Maybe it means we'll both be working extra hours. I do know we'll do whatever it takes to keep her there.” Currently, the Tuition Solution is running in 12 of Salem's 31 markets. Dave Santrella, president of the company's radio division, says feedback has been “very positive, very welcoming.” He acknowledges that the promotion does provide a revenue stream for the stations, but that's not the reason Salem launched the program. “We view everything inside our signal as our mission field,” he says. “The significant drive behind this is to provide a community service. We hear back from listeners who say they've been praying for some financial relief, and now we're in a position to give it to them.” Foran believes winning the Keswick tuition for her daughter was a result of a plan “put together by God.” She had left a higher paying job at a local hospital to work for lesser pay at New Life Solutions, a Christian-based pregnancy center, a move that had an effect on family finances. “If I had tried to fix the problem, it definitely wouldn't have been expecting a radio station to offer me a one-half tuition rate,” she says. “God has the answer before we even know the problem.”