Private School Tuition Bill Tops $40,000

The Wall Street Journal

The Riverdale Country School will charge $40,450 for high-school students in the coming year, the first time a New York private school has topped $40,000 in annual tuition.

Tuition costs at the city's private schools, which breached $30,000 just five years ago, have climbed 79% in the past decade. The best schools have no trouble getting enough students. Still, school administrators and academic experts said they are increasingly worried about the effects of rising tuition.

"Even though you may have found yourself with enough people to pay the tuition, you may find yourself with a very different population in your school than you want to have," said John Allman, head of school at Trinity, another elite private school. "We think it's increasingly difficult for families across a socioeconomic spectrum to consider Trinity as a viable economic option."

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For the 2011-12 school year, Trinity will be raising its tuition and fees by 4.3% to $38,180 for seniors. School officials estimated there would be an additional $1,000 or so dollars in extra fees, including books, trips, athletics, school supplies and yearbook.

Riverdale's tuition is virtually all-inclusive. When the assortment of fees and additional costs are toted up at independent schools across the city, many other parents will be paying more than $40,000 a year for their child's education next year.

In an email, Dominic A.A. Randolph, the head of Riverdale Country School, said he was "perturbed" by the ever-increasing costs of education.

But he added, "I also believe that our parents rightfully make it a priority for their children to have the opportunity of an amazing education and are willing to pay for that."

At the Hewitt School, tuition will be $38,000 next year. At the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, students will pay $37,825, which for high-school students doesn't include books, supplies and other course-related expenses. That is a 5.3% increase over this past school year.

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These tuitions continue to outpace some of the country's top Ivy League schools. Next year, Princeton University will charge $37,000 for tuition (with $865 in required additional fees), while this past year Harvard University charged $34,976 (along with $3,439 in required fees).

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What's more, around 60% of Princeton and Harvard students receive need-based financial aid. At Princeton, the average grant is more than $38,000.

By contrast, on average, New York City independent schools offered financial aid to 19.9% of students in 2010-11, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. The median grant was $21,350.

"The question is, when does it stop?" said George Davison, the head of school at Grace Church School, which will charge $34,800 next year, a 6% increase. "And you have to assume that there will be a point at which it will stop."

Tuition at New York City schools has long outpaced the national average. This past year, national median tuition for 12th grade was $21,695, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. In New York City, it was $35,475.

No one expects tuition costs to stop climbing. Administrators at Avenues, a new for-profit private school that is scheduled to open in Manhattan in the fall of 2012, said it analyzed trend data carefully while determining the school's own tuition numbers.

It projects that by the time Avenues opens in 2012, the average tuition at New York City private schools will be $39,700. That doesn't include extra fees.

"That's basically where we'll be," said Avenues co-founder Chris Whittle, noting that lunch and any transportation costs at the school would be additional fees.

The rising costs don't seem to be keeping affluent parents away.

"To be honest with you, I haven't heard a backlash about this," said Gina Malin, director of school advisory services for the Parents League of New York. "I think parents, they just say, 'OK, this is the price we have to pay for an independent school education.' It's like the price we have to pay for living in New York City. Everything is expensive."

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Though kindergarten enrollment in New York City public schools has increased by 4.7% in the past five years, the number of children taking the Educational Records Bureau private-school admissions test also has risen. After a slight dip the past two years, the number of children taking the test increased by nearly 10% in 2010-11, to 4,668.

Parents point to private-school perks such as Mandarin classes and exchange programs as far-flung as Japan, China and India. Students at Spence can work on a 300-acre farm in Vermont or spend a semester on the Maine coast, while at Trinity they can partner with the Harlem DNA Lab or participate in an exchange program with a school in South Africa.

"This is the best education money can buy. Without a question of a doubt," said educational consultant and author Victoria Goldman. Still, she said, "when my children started [at Riverdale] it was $15,000 and I was thinking, 'Wow.'"

By the time her youngest child graduated, tuition fees had doubled. Now, she said, "It's 40! That's crazy. Crazy. But you know what? Nobody's complaining about the price. Nobody."

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