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More Families Seeking Financial Assistance

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With tuition rising at independent schools for the 1982-83 academic year by as much as $1,200, admissions officers in most of the 26 preparatory schools contacted by Education Week reported a marked increase in requests for financial aid and loans.

According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the tuition and fees at member boarding schools averaged $6,943 in 1981-82, with costs at some schools exceeding $8,000. The mean at day schools was $3,618, said Anne Rosenfeld, public information director for NAIS

For boarding students, in particular, the cost of attending an independent school will rise by as much as 13-to-15 percent next fall. Schools reporting such increases include Milton Academy in Milton, Mass.; Webb School of California in Claremont; Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Conn.; and Taft School in Watertown, Conn.

But perhaps the most dramatic change is being felt at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., where fees for boarding students--while lower than those of some other schools--will jump from $6,800 to $8,000--an increase of nearly 18 percent.

Only a handful of well-endowed schools can even come close to accommodating the financial needs of their students' families, admissions and financial-aid officers said.

Still, said Marjo Talbott of the NAIS, $95 million in student aid was awarded this school year by the more than 800 schools that make up the organization.

Among the schools with relatively large annual financial-aid budgets are Milton Academy, with more than $1 million; Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., with $1.5 million; and Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., with $1.8 million.

Not only are financial-aid budgets growing at many schools that can afford to divert extra resources to assisting families, but so is the proportion of students receiving grants and loans.

Three of the 26 schools contacted will grant aid to 30 percent or more of their students during the 1982-83 academic session: Milton Academy, 30 percent; Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y., 33 percent; and Phillips Academy at Andover, 35 percent, up 4 percent over this school year.

Given the economic climate, most school officials agreed that the increased demand for aid is to be expected. "And we certainly expect that to continue," said Meredith Price of Phillips Academy.

Requests are up by one-third at The Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., just north of Detroit, reported Michael Spence, director of admissions. Cranbrook, which sets aside $605,000 per year for scholarship grants and $37,000 for loans, "will have to be more protective of financial-aid dollars," he said.

Other schools indicating significant increases in the number of financial-aid requests included Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md., up 20 percent, and Webb School of California in Claremont, up 15 to 20 percent.

"Families are coming forward and saying, 'We just don't have the money,"' said John Charles Smith of Milton Academy. "I suspect this will happen throughout the summer. There will be quite a rearrangement."

"A few of the requests we write off as ridiculous," said one financial-aid director. "For instance, we recently received a call from a family whose annual income is around $90,000, and they inquired about possible grants for their only child, who is enrolled here."

Such frivolous requests aside, at least one trend has caught a number of financial-aid officers by surprise: the growing number of requests from present students.

"One of the biggest areas of increase has been from students who are currently enrolled, some of whom are not presently receiving aid, and who are afraid they may not be able to return to school next year without some sort of assistance," said Audrey Koester, admissions director at Emma Willard School.

Particularly hard-hit by the steep rises in tuition are middle-income families, a number of admissions directors agreed.

"We are very, very concerned ... about increasing tuition by too large an amount and thus intimidating more and more candidates that we really are in business to serve," said Mr. Price of Phillips Academy. ''We worry that more of the middle-class and lower-middle-class kids won't even think about a place like Andover and won't even think about the fact that we have this enormous amount of financial aid. But it's not happening here yet."

Said Roy E. Bergeson, director of admissions at Webb School of California: "We've witnessed a 15-to-20-percent increase, particularly from middle-class families. Low-income families can usually get scholarships; richer parents can afford the tuition increases. But those families in the middle are feeling the pressure."

To attract and to keep this segment of the student population, several admissions directors said that independent schools will have to look carefully at existing criteria for awarding grants. "Sometimes," noted Mr. Smith, "middle-class families have to go to the school that makes the most generous offer."

The increase in tuition may have had another noticeable effect in admissions offices this year: Contracts from students have been arriving at a more leisurely pace than in past years, according to most of the school officials contacted. "Acceptances are coming in much more slowly than I have ever seen them before," commented Susan Hendricks of Taft School.--C.K.

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