Independent School Tuition: Enough Already?!

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The steadily growing annual rate of private school tuitions has many parents wondering when costs are going to level out. A recent NAIS blog post poses the question: “Have independent schools reached a price break point? Many believe they have, prompting widespread discussions about how to control school costs and more clearly identify the value of an independent school education.”

NAIS expresses the Value-Proposition Equation: “As the price of the education offer[ed] increases, the perceived outcomes must also increase for families to see the value of sending their children to independent schools.”

The fact of the matter is, many school leaders are not concerned with the public perception of tuition increases, as long as families believe in the value of the product they’re offering: a quality education, individualized attention, and dedicated and experienced teachers. If a school can offer higher quality teachers, superior amenities and an overall enhanced experience, then their perceived value will increase, and so can the price tag. Add to this the fact that schools with the highest faculty compensation are likely to be the schools with the highest tuitions.

With the hope of gaining a better understanding of the relationship between private school tuition and perceived value, NAIS conducted a study released this January in which they reviewed 25 years of historical quantitative data, surveyed 993 school leaders, and interviewed 26 of those leaders. Their research showed that school leaders overwhelmingly reported that they “set tuition based on what is required to deliver the school’s educational program, not on inflation.” Of additional note, the majority of Heads of School and Chief Financial Officers surveyed agreed that they set tuition  “sufficient to deliver our best educational program,” “based on what we believe families can afford,” and “in relation to the tuitions of peer schools.”

Surveyed school leaders also said they believe the strength of the educational program, not affordability of the tuition, to be the main differentiator in the independent school market. And good news for teachers seeking jobs in private schools (as well as teacher placement agencies like Educator’s Ally who can help connect educators to positions with competitive salaries): schools absolutely emphasized that faculty compensation was top of mind when contemplating tuition increases. Looking ahead, NAIS’ research suggests that salary and tuition increases will continue, with the objective of improving or at least upholding the offered experience.

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