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Independent Schools: An Affordable Investment

14 Mar

As parents, we all want the best for our children. We know that education plays an essential role in preparing them for their future. That is why we are active in parent teacher organizations, support booster clubs and, most importantly, attend parent curriculum nights and teacher conferences and partner with our children’s teachers and schools.

A Strong Foundation
We also know that starting with a strong foundation is essential. A study done in Montreal to explain how it was that some adults had overcome their challenging environment while most had not is interesting in this regard. The researchers discovered that adults from a particular economically depressed area of the city who had achieved more success than their peers all had one thing in common. Incredible as it sounds, the only constant was that they all had had the same first grade teacher. The adults could all explain why she had impacted them so powerfully.

That foundation, in other words, established lasting positive outcomes. Assuring the best possible start, in preschool and the elementary school years, sets children on the road to success in high school and college – and life. It is the best investment that families can make in their children’s futures. Applewild provides many ways to make such an investment affordable as well as impactful.

A number of Applewild families intentionally start their children with us with the goal of the students qualifying for honors programs at area high schools. Then they will be in a strong position to apply for scholarships to colleges. The families are investing in the early years, in other words, where the cost is less than at many secondary schools, with the knowledge that their children will have strengthened their options for the next steps.

Sticker Shock
Independent schools have long been interested in making our schools more welcoming to families. NAIS and AISNE have been encouraging independent schools to look at affordability for a few years, and the recession of 2008 and its aftermath have brought the topic to the fore.

Opinion polling by both the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and by the regional group, the Association of Independent schools in New England (AISNE) demonstrate that parents value the high quality, individual attention, and core values of independent education. In these surveys, many families indicate that they would seek the independent school option, but it is too expensive. Opening school websites to the admission page and finding the tuition can be a shock. It can convince families, before they even begin, that independent education is out of reach.

Just as with colleges, students and families are opting out because of the sticker price. They are unaware, when considering colleges, that many of the private colleges will be a better bargain than the public colleges, once financial aid and loans are factored into the equation. The crunch is particularly challenging for families caught in the middle. In the same way, independent schools can be more affordable then we appear. We encourage families to go beyond “sticker shock” and investigate ways that this powerful investment could be affordable.

The “bar bell” effect
Independent schools and colleges use standard methodology to make decisions about financial aid. Families who can afford the cost can consider the independent option, and families who need significant aid based on the existing methodology qualify for substantial aid. Secondary schools generally make this aid in the form of full grants with no loan exposure. It is still a stretch for many families at both ends of the bar bell, but they have resources available to them.

Those who qualify for little aid, or who are the cusp but do not qualify, are in the middle of the “bar bell.” These people’s incomes may be too high to qualify but not high enough to realistically enable them to afford independent education. NAIS data show that three times as many families with incomes of $150,000 are seeking help with tuition as applied ten years ago. It is clear that the traditional methodology has not kept up with current reality.

Applewild’s Affordability Initiative
Applewild School has purposefully maintained low tuition levels compared to peer schools in the region over many years to help address affordability. To address the “bar bell” phenomenon and reinforce Applewild’s commitment to being welcoming and inclusive, the school announced in February an Affordability Initiative. The purpose is to provide more financial aid for a wider range of families applying for admission. This initiative intends to help more families get past the “sticker shock” and look at the merits of the investment.

Thanks to a donor who is partnering with the school, Applewild is taking the lead in refining the formula by which financial aid is awarded. The purpose is to develop a new, systematic, equitable methodology to address what has increasingly become an issue that all independent schools in the country are wrestling with – cost as an impediment to middle income families. The goal is to maintain a consistent approach to qualifying for aid, while expanding the methodology to include families that the traditional approach leaves out.

Applewild will retain our AppleCore Merit Scholarships, available to new students entering grades four through seven. There are also limited Early Childhood Scholarships available for children entering grade two next year. Applewild will also maintain the existing School and Student Services by NAIS (SSS) methodology that is used throughout the country by independent schools for determining financial aid.

We also started a Preschool, the Child Development Center at Applewild, last summer. This enables us to extend our curriculum based approach and Core Values to children ages 2.9 – 5. This program provides an Applewild foundation at preschool tuition levels – another conscious affordability decision. For more information about making the investment in your children, find us at www.applewild.org or call admissions at 978-342-6053.

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