A recent editorial in the New York Times written by R. Scott Asen delivered the counterintuitive idea that, although many families are struggling to pay private school tuitions, private schools aren't too expensive but in fact perhaps aren't expensive enough.
The Root of the Problem: High Operating Costs
Asen, who led the development committee at the Groton School, a well-established boarding and day school in rural Groton, Massachusetts, writes that the tuition at most private schools covers only about 70-80% of the operating costs of the school. In fact, at many boarding schools, tuition only covers about 50% of the operating costs, and Asen states that the gap between what tuition covers and the operating expenses of private schools is only increasing each year.
To make up the difference between the expense and cost of running a school, most private schools engage in fundraising and capital campaigns. Asen argues that this development method is outdated and that a new method is needed. What he recommends might surprise you in the midst of a recession: he suggests that a certain subset of families pay more for private school.
The Solution: Families Who Can Pay More
Many families whose children attend private schools are struggling to pay the tuition, even with scholarships. However, as Asen writes in his New York Times editorial, there is a small subset of families who can actually afford to pay more for their children's private school tuitions. In this new type of pricing, families will be told what the full cost of educating each student is, and they will be asked to fill in this difference with a donation, if possible, to the extent that their finances allow. To figure out how much families' means will permit them to give, all families will share their financial information, in much the same way they do to determine their eligibility for financial aid. Asen believes that this new means of pricing could result in an increase of millions of dollars for private schools.
Can families pay for such tuition increases? Asen suggests that in the areas from which private schools draw their students, there is an affluent base of families who could afford to pay more in tuition. Boarding schools, he writes, draw from a large pool of international students, some of whose families can afford this tuition increase. He believes that families who are committed to sending their children to private schools will pay more for private education and will be willing to make up the gap for students who cannot afford to pay more.
While Asen believes schools would still engage in traditional fundraising, a change in the pricing model of the school might appeal to some families, who tire of the traditional annual campaigns in which schools ask families to make donations to the school. In fact, this type of pricing model would make the schools’ expenses clearer and more transparent and would involve each family contributing to the school to the extent they can. To some degree, this pricing model, while novel in some ways, resembles the way in which schoolmasters were paid in colonial times, when families contributed what they could to the schoolmaster’s pay. Some families contributed more, while families in lean times would often pay with food or other bartered items. It was collectively the parents’ responsibility to pay for the schoolmaster, but they might have contributed different amounts according to their ability to pay. While many families today are struggling to pay tuition, others can step into the gap and make sure their schools stay afloat financially.