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Although geared for college admission, one recent New York Times article and a new blog on their site provide some good thinking and advice- parts of which are applicable to private school admission.

The article first- "Paying in Full as the Ticket Into Colleges," lays plain for all to see that, with tight financial aid offerings colleges are accepting more students whose families can pay in full. This has always been the case at or near the bottom of college applicant pools, but the practice is creeping further up the ladder into the realm of highly qualified applicants.

As we've always argued, you can increase your aid opportunities by applying to a school in which your abilities and desires place you toward the top end of the applicant pool.

The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Aid is a new NYT blog exploring college admission and financial aid through the voices of students and professionals. Even though it's geared toward college admission, the issues, experiences and thinking are similar to private school admission. Keep in mind that college and private school admission are not the same.  I recommend it as a thought provoking read. You'll find some thinking and commentary applicable to private school admission.

Photo credit: Gwen's River City Images
Rinker Buck of the Hartford Courant wrote an interesting piece this week, "Enrollment Shift Could Burden Farmington Valley Towns" in which he lays out the linkages between public and private school enrollment in private school dense areas. Looking at Hartford and its surrounding area, its private school density and the changing fortunes of private school families, he presents the private and public school sides of the education coin as some families shift their children from private to public schools.

Mark Zito, Simsbury schools' Director of Human Resources told Buck, "This winter, during our budget planning process for the 2009-2010 school year, we were aware that there might be an influx of students from private schools...We are planning for an extra 33 students above what the models predict our enrollment size should be." (Hartford Courant)

Public and private schools have been living in a very nice world with families paying local school taxes while paying private school tuition. Now local public schools face increasing resource demands as students migrate to public system while prep schools face declining endowments, enrollments and tuition dollars.

Westminster School Headmaster, Graham Cole added: "I have not seen anything like this before...The independent schools have been riding the crest of good times for so many years, so it's a wrenching emotional experience for us now. But I'm confident there will still be a role for independent schools and that they will still be here." (Hartford Courant)
Blue Ridge School recently added its Affordability Plan to the school's web site laying out their commitment to affordability.

It includes both philosophical and concrete examples of the school's approaches and commitment. Among other items in the Affordability Plan, Blue Ridge has increased its financial aid budget by 30% over the past two years and, one item that I really like, the school makes clear that the tuition, room and board are inclusive of all school activities- including textbooks. This is more important than it sounds; for years, many schools have used extracurriculars and books as profit centers- charging and billing for activities and bus rides.

I like Blue Ridge's willing to publish their positions and thinking. They use one of my favorite terms transparency. Transparency allows parents and families to make the best possible decisions.

A School Administrator Talks About Paying for Prep School

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As Brian mentioned in the post before this one, late last week I sat down with two financial aid experts for a podcast that examined financial aid in an economic downturn. My guests offered sound advice for families considering financial aid options.

We're always on the lookout for additional FA articles & resources and Rob Kennedy, my friend at, offers a number of blog entries that focus on the topic.

I encourage you to visit his site and read through his writings. A good one to begin with is his post on Paying for Private School in Tough Times- a Q&A with Dr. Wendy Weiner, Principal of Conservatory Prep Senior High.

Rob asks Dr. Weiner about what parents of currently enrolled students should do if they find themselves in a position where they can't afford their tuition payments.   

Dr. Weiner discusses the need to maintain an open line of communication with your school (a point we always stress); should parents use college savings to pay for prep school; what are your contract obligations; and renegotiating aid based on a change in circumstance.

A Podcast Conversation About Affording Private School in an Economic Downturn

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Addressing the admissions notification and financial aid season, we produced a podcast today discussing financial aid in tight times.

Peter spoke with Martin Peyer, CEO of Tuition Data Services and Jamie Miller, Director of Financial Aid at the Blue Ridge School. They explored financial aid and tuition payment strategies for families as they make their private school commitment for 2009-2010.

Suggestions to families include:

Opening a dialog with admission and financial aid officers at the start of the application process

Prepare to document your financial condition

Explore tuition payment plans and lending options

Ask the financial aid officers about resources. They know the foundations and sources interested in supporting their students.

Please share their commentary and suggestions as we work through then enrollment and financial aid process in this difficult environment. The episode is available below, through our Boarding School Podcast directory or AQ's iTunes channel.

Approaching Financial Aid in a Recession Download the .mp3 (Audio) (16.9 MB)

Get it on iTunes Get it on iTunes!

From today's Washington Post (Aid Is Increased to Help Keep Struggling Families From Removing Students)- with experience working through difficult situations over the past decade- declining enrollment, increasing costs and families electing non-catholic education options, the Catholic schools of the DC area are moving quickly and decisively to help families seeking financial aid.

As Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association told the Post "Any kind of issues that we had before have just been intensified by the concern over the economy."

To their credit, the administrators of DC are Catholic schools are committed to finding and making increased financial aid available to families who might need tuition assistance for the first time.

"To retain students whose parents have hit rocky financial times, dioceses are increasing financial aid for next year, extending financial aid deadlines and offering emergency aid for this year for families facing sudden setbacks who are unable to pay tuition, which runs between $4,000 and $18,000 a year.

The Arlington Diocese, which has about 18,000 students, has increased its financial aid from $1.7 million to $2 million for next year. It is also offering $250,000 this year for people in immediate need, said Sister Bernadette McManigal, interim schools superintendent.

She expects the money to run out quickly. "I probably could use a half-million just for immediate need," she said." (Washington Post)
While doing great work, I find the-story-behind-the-story the most interesting aspect of this piece. Increasing financial aid is something that every tuition driven school would love today.  Most can't. But some schools- like the DC area Catholic schools- find more aid. And, I think the reasons are simple. Start with Lower overhead.  But, beyond that, I see commitment and communal bonds.

Most everyone, clergy, teachers, parents, students, charities and families share a common bond of service and shared sacrifice. "Working together, we can find a way to make this work." And, unlike stand-alone independent schools, catholic schools seem to be able to draw on revenues from other parts of their diocese.

"Barbara McGraw Edmondson, principal of the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills, said her school's leadership has decided that it will waive tuition, if need be, to keep children in school. Several families have come to the school seeking assistance because of unemployment or decreased income.

"If a family is in that situation, we certainly would have the child remain in school even if they can't pay the tuition," Edmondson said. "That is the reality now." (Washington Post)
One can't help but be impressed by the commitment and levels of shared sacrifice and wonder, "are there ways for independent schools to build, practice, and benefit from these intense levels of commitment and sacrifice?"
The UK has it's own financial mess on its hands- much like ours with over valued and leveraged real estate and the loans behind real estate purchases gone south- with pound sterling headed south in a directly proportional relationship.

So what does this mean to American boarding schools? For years American boarding schools have been recruiting students overseas and international students have become part of the boarding school fabric. If this Reuters' article (Elite schools seek strength in sterling's weakness) is correct and English schools seriously pursue a larger international population, it adds element of competition for international students for American boarding schools.

Richard Murphy, a research economist at the Center for the Economics of Education, told Reuters:

"The pound has weakened against the yen by 40 percent since January last year, so we expect more foreign students from Asia...It will be harder for U.S. private schools to attract foreign students, the demand will be bigger for private schools in the UK because of the good exchange rate..." (Reuters)
Also from the article, "Dominic Scott, Chief Executive of the UK Council for International Students' Affairs, said he expected increasing numbers of well-off students to come to private schools in Britain, especially from China, Malaysia and Singapore."

Increasing competition for international student will require American boarding schools to hone their messages and make their strengths sharper than ever. American schools- public and private- are still the best in the world at educating and nurturing the widest range of kids imaginable.
New York Times reporter Martin Fackler quotes a phrase that many of us in the tuition driven world know but seldom utter; "Korea (South) experienced a study-abroad bubble." In his January 10, 2009 article "Global Financial Crisis Upends the Plans of Many South Koreans to Study Abroad," Fackler elucidates the now fading convergence of the strong won and competitive desires of Korean parents that came together to create what I call a study abroad migration.

Fackler cites a Korean Education Ministry figure of 350,000 South Korean students studying abroad in 2007 with the largest contingent in the United States.

"South Koreans have become the largest group of foreign students in the United States, according to American government statistics, outnumbering even those from China, with a population much larger than South Korea's 48 million people."  (Fackler, NYT)
American boarding schools and colleges & universities have enjoyed strong numbers of full-tuition Korean students seeking experiences and advancement through western style education. But this well of relied-upon tuition may be beginning to dry-up.

Korean families are now assessing and scrutinizing study abroad opportunities in light of the weak wan and global financial crisis. The competitive desire to keep-up and advance still drives many families, but it's being tempered by reality. One year programs have become more attractive for families that can still afford an international experience.

Some academics worry about the possibility of increasing inequality with only the wealthiest families sending their students abroad.

"Upper-middle-class families will still have the ability to send their children abroad, even if it means great sacrifice," said Oh Ookwhan, a professor of education at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. "This will allow them to stay ahead of less fortunate families."
An odd thing during these times of declining endowment income- several New England colleges are doing OK. In a Boston Globe piece several smaller tuition driven schools report that the relationship with their students and school growth haven't yet changed much. They're used to offering good value and opportunities- funded predominately with tuition dollars. Smaller endowment income never allowed them to grow beyond defined means.

Ronald Champagne, president of Merrimack College told the Boston Globe:

"In these hard economic times, institutions that relied heavily on their endowments, like Harvard, suffered the greatest losses in terms of impact on their operating budget...In a sense, we have a blessing in disguise."
A boarding school head recently expressed similar sentiment during a conversation- explaining that he was used to covering all of his school's expenses with tuition dollars. With fewer dollars, there would of course be cuts and reductions and he's prepared several budget drafts based on varying enrollments. But, he said, the big schools who've become used to supplementing operating costs with endowment income will be pinched the hardest. In some cases, well endowed schools have developed high fixed overhead that isn't easily adjusted downward during tight times.

Experience living with one's means has it's advantages.

The number of boards and school heads addressing the tight economic climate and communicating with their constituencies honestly and directly on these matters- while not a solution- provides some measure of comfort. Tackling the issues honestly and directly beats all the options.

With the break from school and the slower routine, the end of year holidays provide a great time to make sure your ducks are in a row with respect to the private school application process. This is an overview of where you might expect to be if you're on an ideal application calendar. If you're in a different spot in the process- don't worry. It's a process; all the pieces can be compressed and sped-up if you need to.

By the end of the year, you should have worked through the following steps for Fall 2009 school admission:

  1. Committed to exploring a school change.

  2. Developed an understanding of your child as a student. How does he/she learn best?  In what type of environment does he/she thrive? Does he/she structure/support?  Does your student have a strong talent or ability that needs an especially strong program- art, music, athletics?

  3. Researched and explored schools- understanding the difference between different schools.

  4. Settled on a list of schools with environments and programs that will best nurture your student.

  5. Ordered application packages and started the application process at these schools. This includes completing the applications and working with your current teachers and school to have recommendations and assessments written.

  6. Scheduled interviews at these schools.

  7. Financial Aid. You should be gathering financial data and be completing the SSS financial disclosure from.
The process requires a good deal of gathering & information management; planning and is paramount. As I mentioned earlier, all of the parts can be compressed if you arrived late.

Financial Aid  
If you plan on applying for financial aid, start early. The financial aid process requires lots of disclosure and it can take some time to gather the information.

Also, schools may accept admission applications on a rolling admission basis. Be aware, however, that financial aid is not awarded nor is it usually available on a rolling basis. Financial aid applications have a fixed, early application date and you must submit your applications on time.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Affording Boarding Schools category.

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