How are Private Schools Dealing With Less Money?
The schools are not exempt from the economic crisis.
While the debate continues over what the School District of Philadelphia will cut if it doesn’t receive requested funding before next fall, the impact of the ongoing economic crisis on private schools hasn’t gotten nearly the same level of attention.
Patch spoke with representatives from some of the private schools in Northwest Philadelphia about how they’re getting by with less.
Greene Street Friends School: According to Leanne Clancy, the director of admission & financial aid at Greene Street Friends, the economy has had minimal effect on the school so far. Greene Street Friends has no debt and lower tuition than some of the other Friends schools. Enrollment is up, as are the number of school tours and applications. On the other hand, more families are requesting financial aid. Clancy anticipates that approximately 40 percent of all Greene Street Friends students will receive some need-based aid next year.
The school hasn’t had to eliminate any existing programs.
“We have added sections of grades, hired more faculty and are planning a major capital improvement to our campus,” Clancy said.
Miquon School: Like Greene Street Friends, Miquon is doing its best to weather the current economic crisis. Director of Communications & Alumni Relations Arabella Pope reported an increase in applications and stable enrollment figures.
Pope described the increase in financial aid requests by both current and prospective families as “dramatic." In response, Miquon is offering more aid next year and helping families locate additional, outside sources of funding.
“Overall, the school continues in a healthy state,” Pope said. She attributes the school’s financial stability to careful financial management and cost-saving approaches that don't negatively affect the quality of the school's programs or its staff levels.
Project Learn School: The number of applications at Project Learn remain stable, as do programs and services offered at the school. Admissions Director Aisha Anderson-Oberman feels that the flexibility of Project Learn’s parent-teacher cooperative structure has allowed the school to maintain current offerings.
Although the school does not generally offer financial aid, the number of Project Learn families that have requested assistance during the last two years has grown. In response, the school created the Tuition Aid program to assist current Project Learn families. The school also tries to work with families on payment schedules.
“The saddest way that we have been affected by the economic crisis is that we have seen families have to leave our school for financial reasons or relocating to find new work,” Anderson-Oberman said.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy*: According to Liz Harris, the director for enrollment for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCHA), the school has lost few students due to the current economic crisis.
“Our parents have been carefully re-evaluating the sacrifice that it takes to provide this kind of education and making harder and harder choices to continue to send their children to this school,” said Harris.
The number of applications remains unchanged.
SCHA has also experienced an increase in requests for financial assistance, most notably among families that may have not previously done so in the past. Like Penn Charter, SCHA has managed to add programming during the crisis.
“Our partnership has enabled us to realize efficiencies that have enabled us to put more, not less, money into program,” Harris said.
William Penn Charter School: The economic crisis has “impacted everyone, but we’ve managed to weather it quite well,” said Penn Charter Director of Enrollment Management John Zurcher.
The school has seen an increase in applicants since the crisis began. It’s also added programming and has undertaken facility improvements. Like other private schools, Penn Charter has seen an uptick in the number of families that have requesting financial assistance.
According to Zurcher, the school takes its commitment to providing access seriously, citing the contributions of community members as key in Penn Charter’s efforts to support the demand for more need-based financial aid.
The Impact of Public Funding: Although the schools are private entities, they are affected by cuts in the state, city, and district budgets.
Some schools receive state funding for classroom equipment and consumable resources, such as workbooks. Many private school students—including those at all of the schools interviewed for this article—rely on Philadelphia’s publicly-funded transportation service to get to and/or from school. That's now being threatened by budget cuts.
Some schools will be hit harder than others. Approximately 40 percent of all students at Greene Street Friends, for example, utilize this service, while 10 percent of SCHA’s students do. Many private schools are taking a wait-and-see approach to the transportation issue, although some already have experience providing transportation to a portion of their students.
Either way, all of these private schools credit a strong relationship with current families and alumni as a key to financial stability during difficult times.
“In some ways, the experience of weathering a storm together has strengthened the community rather than threatened it,“ said Pope.
*The Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Coordinate Program is a new collaborative effort between the single-sex schools of Springside and Chestnut Hill Academy.