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carpe-diem.jpgIn a piece for SmartMoney (The Private School Pinch), Neil Parmer makes the case for the current private school admission cycle as a buyers opportunity. He doesn't sugar coat the costs but he makes the case for- and provides ideas and examples- of the negotiating and buying opportunities available to parents.

Boarding and private schools need to fill their seats and beds and are open to all sorts of considerations, strategies and questions from parents regarding tuition- ideas and discussions that schools wouldn't have entertained just a year ago.

Schools are doing their parts trimming and containing costs and tuition and they are willing to work with parents under the same pressures.

"...But look around the country these days and you'll see that admissions math is in flux...

Recession specials have also been cropping up at schools around the country, with tuition discounts reported as high as 20 percent...

And while you won't see "bartering" listed in any of its official financial-aid literature, the Westover School in Middlebury, Conn., has allowed a couple of folks to do just that. According to the school's head, Ann Pollina, several parents at the all-girls college prep have traded their professional services -- as technology and business-efficiency consultants -- for a little tuition relief...

In the past, of course, it's been the parents who have had to go to great lengths to get their children into the more elite schools. But since the economy went south, the game has changed; now it's the schools that are having to hustle -- and maybe even lower their standards. Instead of waiting for the applications to roll in, more are forced to actively beat the bushes, consultants say, to fill spots that have opened midyear. Even in the most competitive markets, there's talk of more "brokering" going on..." (SmartMoney)

If you're considering boarding or private school for student, an opportunity may be at hand.

Photo credit: Randy OHC

Diana Costello has written a snapshot of the school and family sides of the private school admission process in the lower Hudson River Valley for the Journal News and LoHud.com ("Parents still paying up for private schools").

She chronicles the thinking and decisions of families as administrators work to keep their schools full and parents cut and sacrifice to afford an opportunity they believe important.

"The Geber family of Nyack, for instance, is shelling out $55,000 a year to send two children to the Rockland Country Day School, where both have been students since kindergarten. One is in eighth grade, the other is a senior who has been accepted to Columbia University.

"It's like buying a Mercedes E-Class once a year and then driving it off a cliff," said David Geber, 58, a member of the board of trustees at Rockland Country Day who is also the dean of faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. He wasn't the only one to make that joke.

But, he quickly adds, he can't think of a better investment.

"If we don't spend our money on our children, what are we going to spend it on?" he said. "We do not drive fancy cars, do not go on vacations, we just make things meet." (LoHud.com)

There's an unstated idea in this piece that strikes me- that few people seem to be acknowledging- schools and families seem to be making very resourceful efforts to meet each other in the middle regarding tuition and costs. I think there's still a way to go in terms of school lowering costs, but the opportunities and willingness to make changes and adjustments seem to be taking hold.

Walter Johnson, headmaster of The Hackley School in Tarrytown told the Journal News:

"People have made philosophical decisions to keep their kids in public schools, but if you have the sense that that decision is becoming more challenging because of the economic struggles your schools are facing, that's when you may start to consider something different." (LoHud.com)

Photo credit: s_jelan

Jim Wickenden, principal of his eponymous firm, Wickenden Associates called out school heads in the name of shared sacrifice in his blog post titled "Setting an Example." Citing school cost cutting efforts, Jim notes the symbolic importance of school heads sharing in communal sacrifice and the message that a school heads public sacrifice would send.

"...And speaking of symbolism, I think this is a great time for independent school leaders to consider making a personal sacrifice as well. If, for example, the Head of School were to publicly reduce his or her own salary by an amount sufficient to fund one child's attendance or to save a position or program that would otherwise be on the chopping block, that would send a powerful message indeed. Furthermore, it would give the school's leadership more credibility when communicating with the school family about the "hard decisions" that have to be made."

Jim's argument echoes calls regarding shared sacrifice that we've written and highlighted:

Piney Woods School Faculty Practice Common Sacrifice

Some Thoughts As Boarding School Layoffs Mount

Photo credit: Wickenden Associates
Admission professionals have been telling us the same story throughout the school year. Applications and inquiries are steady. Financial aid requests are up.

Using interviews at a few schools and with the National Association of Independent Schools, the New York Daily News ran a piece (Private schools see more financial aid requests during recession - but applications hold steady) documenting this exact situation.

Families are making tuition a priority and schools are increasing their fund raising efforts and aid budgets. Everyone in the school business seems to be exhaling deeply that we've made it though this year. But, if things say like they are next year, too, will be tough.

Chris Seeley, upper school admissions director at the Trevor School in Manhattan told the Daily News:

"We are tightening the belt...We are bracing for the possibility that we may have fewer students next year. But we are trying to cut the budget without affecting programs, and we haven't been forced to do any major tightening yet."
If you believe in a boarding or independent school and you can afford to make a financial contribution, give now. Independent schools- just as colleges and universities- are working through endowment decreases and pressure. With increased financial aid demand, creating an even greater strain on institutional savings and finances.

If independent school is part of your or your family's nature and you can do it, make sure to make any gift possible this year.

The New York Times recently ran a piece titled "Colleges Ask Donors to Help Meet Demand for Aid." The higher ed situation and independent school situations are similar.

"Faced with one of the most challenging fund-raising environments anyone can remember, colleges and universities are appealing to donors to help meet the swelling demand for financial aid...

The incoming student body for the fall of 2009 will have higher financial needs than in the past," said Clay Ballantine, Hampshire's chief advancement officer. "I tell donors these are excellent students and we want to take financial concerns out of their decision-making process, and we're looking to you to provide a gift that will help us do that."

Photo credit: vanhookc
Julliard is putting its Music Advancement Program on indefinite hiatus with fundraising under pressure. The program will complete it second year obligation with current students but has canceled auditions and will add no new students this year. The Music Advancement Program brings music lessons to kids who don't normally have access to music training.

Professional pianist and Juilliard alumnus Ronen Segev told the New York Times (Juilliard Curtails Program That Serves Poor Children), "It's really heartbreaking... it means a lot to these kids."(NYT)

Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard's president, likens the strategy to pruning so that the plant will bloom with new growth and life during the next spring explaining to the NYT:

"I was the guy who started it 20 years ago, and I believe deeply in it...It's an extremely important part of me and Juilliard'... Mr. Polisi said he hoped to raise money to restart the program, on a smaller scale, in two years."
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
I read a couple of articles over the past few days that, combined, provide a good pictures of the thinking, priorities and sacrifices that families are grappling with in their 'public or private' school decisions. With a generally more conservative outlook about future earnings and home equity gone as a banking option families are struggling mightily to reach the best decisions about schools.

Two articles provide insight into the two sides of the education coin:

The New York Times article, "The Sudden Charm of Public School," looks at family thinking and finances that underlie a migration into the public school system by families who previously assumed that private school would be their choice. The exact numbers are unspecific and anecdotal, but the number of families thinking through this process is clear.

In the current climate can we, and, should we send our kids to private school?

From the NYT article:

"There is no way of knowing just how many would-be or current private school parents are turning to the public schools. But there is no question that the city's public kindergartens are experiencing a groundswell of interest...

The growing undertow from private to public emphasizes just how desperate some families have become.

Moving your kid out of private school is usually one of the last things to go," said Kathy M. Braddock, a partner at Charles Rutenberg Realty. "You give up vacations and cars and take away summer camp first.

But I hear people evaluating everything now. I know lawyers who have been laid off, Wall Street people, the Madoff victims. These are people who never thought they would be in a financial situation where they would have to start making certain choices.

...saying you're interested in sending your kids to public schools used to be a taboo among a certain group of people....Now it's actually kind of cool and in vogue."
The NYC Private Schools Blog paints the opposing view. In a post titled, "Private School Not a Luxury to Most," the author paints a picture of the willingness of parents to prioritize and sacrifice for private education.

Much of the article comes from a Wisconsin Rapids Tribune article looking at one mom's desire and willingness to sacrifice so that she can afford private school tuition and efforts of the area catholic schools to create aid and financing options. 

As Beckie Rogers told the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune:

"It's pretty much a given tuition rates go up every year...But as a parent, I prioritize and give up other things. This is a necessity for my family."
The reality of the public versus private equation in the current admission cycle lies somewhere in the middle. With no sound data, we don't know how many families will choose their public or private education options. We know for sure that economic stress has increased the value and importance of the public side of the equation. We know, with certainty, that uncertainty has private school admission officers working to demonstrate the value of the product and looking harder at their cost structures and aid and financing options than they have in quite some time.

Boarding School Podcast Sustainablity Series

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In light of the economic downturn, school sustainability and adaptive strategies have been hot topics for a number of months. No one is spared from the realities of a shrinking economy- schools, families, students- we're all impacted.

To encourage a conversation about the options available to families and schools, AQ's Boarding School Podcast hosted a four part sustainability series featuring leaders in the private school world. Each interview provides history, current thinking and insights regarding adapting for the future. I encourage you to listen and share.

Boarding School Podcast: Sustainability Series

Boarding Schools Adapting To A Changing Environment
Pete Upham, Executive Director, The Association of Boarding Schools

The Value of Working with an Educational Consultant in a Tight Economic Climate
Mark Sklarow, Executive Director, Independent Educational Consultants Association

Exploring School Sustainability Directions & Ideas with Patrick Bassett, President, National Association of Independent Schools
Patrick Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools

Approaching Financial Aid in an Economic Downturn
Martin Peyer, CEO, TADS & Jamie Miller, Director of Financial Aid, Blue Ridge School

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)

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