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Families Stay in Private Schools In Spite of the Economic Strain

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The economic recession has increased the financial strain on middle-income families with children in private schools, causing more of them to request loans or tuition-payment deferrals. But except in some of the hardest-hit areas of the country, parents have not yet been forced to withdraw their children from private schools in significant numbers.

Private-school officials, responding to an informal nationwide survey conducted by Education Week, reported that parents are making "extraordinary sacrifices" to ensure that their children stay in private schools.

The survey also revealed that requests for financial assistance are increasing substantially, prompting many private schools to increase their aid programs--in some cases by as much as 100 percent--to keep students in school and attract new students.

Aid Programs Augmented

Many schools have launched special fundraising drives to augment financial-aid programs, and some private foundations (such as the Independence Foundation in Philadelphia) are making special grants for student loans.

"I keep waiting for a definite falling off in applications from middle-income families, but it hasn't happened this year," said Charles E. Todd, headmaster of The Watkinson School in Hartford, Conn. "The most we're seeing is a leveling off in applications."

"We consider ourselves fortunate to have held our own in such bad times," reported Peter A. Zadeik Jr., superintendent of The Lutheran High School Association of Greater Chicago.

Enrollments at schools that belong to the National Association of Independent Schools (nais) grew 6.7 percent from 1977 to 1982, according to the organization.

Preliminary results of an nais study of 250 of its schools indicate that private-school enrollments did not decrease this year, except in isolated areas.

Independent schools in Michigan, a state hit hard by the slump in the automotive industry, and independent schools in citieswith high unemployment suffered the most serious declines--about 6 percent, according to private-school leaders.

In many areas, schools may lose families but find there are many others waiting to take their places, the officials suggested.

At The Hawken School in greater Cleveland, for example, Headmaster T. Douglas Stenberg said that the recession "has been a problem for some of the families in our school but not for the institution itself."

"Our total enrollment continues to be sound," he said. "The number of applications this year is the highest ever."

Continued growth is taking place in other parts of the country, including the Southwest, where enrollments were up 1.1 percent this year and are expected to increase slightly next year, according to Richard W. Ekdahl, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, located in Tulsa.

"The vast majority of schools cannot take any more students than they have been accepting," Mr. Ekdahl said. "Schools are at capacity. The only increase they can make is if they add new facilities."

Where enrollment drops have occurred, school officials said, the losses are coming largely at the secondary level.

Enrollment Drop

The Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, N.Y., a city that has suffered economically as a result of a hiring freeze at the Eastman Kodak Company and staff cutbacks at the Xerox Corporation, experienced a 1.5-percent enrollment drop this year, with the greatest losses at the upper level, according to Headmaster James R. Kolster.

"As students get closer to college, they often choose the less expensive option of transferring to parochial or public schools," Mr. Kolster said. "The rationale is simple. Parents want their children to have a good solid start and master basic skills so that they can handle work as they move up the scale."

At The Harley School in Rochester, admissions are down 6 percent this year, and the decline "was particularly pronounced in the upper school where tuition is higher," according to Scott R. Reisinger, director of admissions.

Last-Minute Withdrawals

The economic stresses on families are also showing up for the first time, according to the heads of some schools, in a rising percentage of last-minute withdrawals over the summer.

They said the phenomenon is forcing them to require early tuition payments or larger admissions deposits to ensure that accepted applicants and returning students will actually show up. That problem is widely enough felt that the independent-schools group has scheduled a session at its annual meeting next month on coping with "no shows."

Mr. Zadeik of the Chicago Lutheran schools' association said that Luther East High School, located in a section of Chicago that depends on steel mills and automobile-assembly plants, lost 18 students because of summer withdrawals.

"Promises of financial aid were of no avail," he said. "Our tuition there runs between $1,400 and $1,600, and we were talking about assistance of a fourth or a third, but when you're laid off, any kind of financial burden is difficult to handle."

The withdrawals left the school overstaffed, with a budget deficit of $45,000, he said.

"The general consensus here in Michigan is that parents are very cautious. Either they are hesitant about sending children to boarding schools or are taking students out," said Bruce W. Galbraith, director of the Interlochen Arts Academy and president of the Association of Independent Michigan Schools.

Blair D. Stambaugh, head of The Baldwin School for girls in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and former president of the Head Mistresses Association of the East, said that several families dropped out after receiving their first tuition bill in August (half of the $4,750 cost for freshmen at Baldwin last year).

Because of large numbers of "no shows," some schools in the Southwest are asking parents to pay the full year's tuition in August or July, according to Mr. Ekdahl.

5 Percent Fewer Students

The Rev. John P. Hanley, superintendent of education in the archdiocese of Milwaukee, said area Catholic schools had 5 percent fewer students this fall than had been projected last May, mainly because of the loss of middle-income families over the summer.

Most of the archdiocesan high schools have recently formed full-time development offices to try to raise more funds, he said.

Some 38 percent of boarding schools responding to an nais survey said that last summer they had families postpone their decision to enter the schools because the tuition was too high, according to Marjo Talbott, director of admission services at nais She said that most schools were able to fill up by the time school started, however.

At The Hawken School, students from 10 middle-income families withdrew over the summer for financial reasons, according to Mr. Stenberg. "There's no shortage of candidates," he added. "We currently have about 56 for three openings in the 7th grade, but this could affect the diversity that is part of our purpose."

In an effort to relieve the pressure on students and families, independent schools are shifting more endowed funds and private gifts to bolster financial-aid programs.

Increased numbers of children from lower- and middle-income families have entered private schools in the past few years, according to John C. Esty Jr., president of nais The presence of such students, he said, has increased the need for financial aid. And hard economic times increases it even more.

Requests for financial assistance from parents of students already in the Luther East school have increased by 25 percent this year, according to Mr. Zadeik.

This year, The Pathfinder School in Traverse City, Mich., which experienced a 5-percent enrollment decline, increased its financial-aid fund from $60,000 to more than $90,000, and doubled the percentage of all students who receive aid.

While 20 percent of all students at the school received financial aid in 1982, this year 40 percent receive aid, according to William L. For-tune, assistant director of the school.

The number of students who apply for financial aid at Green Hills School in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been increasing dramatically, according to James W. Gramentine, headmaster of the school.

Three years ago, only about 40 of the school's 300 students applied for financial aid, he said, but this year some 70 to 75 students applied.

Ms. Stambaugh of The Baldwin School also noticed more requests for financial aid. This year, 43 students receive financial assistance, and 70 have already applied for financial assistance 3, when tuition costs will rise above $5,000 in some grades.

"At the moment there is not enough money to meet everyone's need," she said. "I think we'll lose applicants. Applications are coming in well, but we're not just looking for a warm body. In terms of the caliber of student we are looking for, we would be hurt if they went someplace else."

Frank H. Wallace of Colorado Academy in Denver also reported an increase in families already enrolled asking for aid for the first time.

In response, the school increased financial aid by $30,000 last year, which he said will not be possible again. "We will have more families applying than we can satisfy."

Mr. Wallace is not worried about declining enrollments (applications are up 125 percent over last year), but he is worried about losing middle-income families. Officials spent several months this year researching the financial situations of the school's families, and the probable effects of tuition changes on them.

"The issue for us is keeping the economic mix of the parents we have," Mr. Wallace said. He plans to increase tuition 6.5 percent for the 1983-84 school year (current high-school tuition is $4,850), a figure he said is less than the hike most schools in the area are planning.

Developing Loan Funds

Some schools are developing loan funds like those offered by colleges and universities. In this effort, they have been helped substantially by the Independence Foundation in Philadelphia, which last year committed $10.5 million over seven years--in grants ranging from $3,000 to $100,000 per year--to help 85 independent schools establish revolving or "self-replenishing" student-loan funds.

Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.--a recipient of one of the foundation's grants--provides two forms of loans to students, according to George A. Neilson, the school's business manager.

The $200,000 "Student Loan" program, which has been in operation for 20 years, is open to any student who qualifies for financial aid. The school charges 6-percent interest and the student is allowed to defer payment until after he or she finishes college.

The "Parent Loan" program, begun five years ago, is based on loan programs available at many colleges and universities.

It is aimed primarily at families with incomes of from $30,000 to $75,000 that can afford to send their children to the school but who do not have the cash in hand to pay tuition charges.

Phillips Andover sets aside $250,000 for the loans, which the parents begin to pay back at the market rate of interest (currently about 12 percent) while the student is still at school. The academy allows a moratorium on the loan during the student's college years. This program has been supported by the Independence Foundation, which last year announced it would provide $100,000 a year for seven years.

Regardless of institution support, many parents continue to make great sacrifices for their children.

Mr. Wallace of Colorado Academy told of one set of parents who lost their jobs with Braniff Corporation after 20 years and still managed to keep their children in school.

"I don't really know how they did it," he said. "They lost everything. Went from $175,000 down to nothing a year. And we were not able to give them aid. But still the kids were kept in school."

Parents Make Sacrifices

Mr. Stenberg of The Hawken School told of a businessman whose income has dwindled from $50,000 per year to about $24,000, who plans to sell his new house and move into a less expensive one that is closer to the school to keep his third-grade son enrolled.

Costs at the school range from $2,900 per year in kindergarten to $4,726 in the 12th grade.

"What I keep hearing," said Vincent J. Duminuco, president of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association, "are stories about more and more families making greater sacrifices to stay in, doing without a lot of things they might otherwise have."

More middle-income private-school families are in need of financial aid.

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