Private schools expect less tuition revenue, more need for financial aid

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Kristelle Siarza was afraid she wouldn’t be able to send her son, Johnathan, to Bosque School this fall after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her business and income.

Siarza, who owns digital marketing agency Siarza Social Digital, took a 65% cut to her salary at one point to make up for lost revenue, primarily from canceled events.

She turned to extra financial aid offered by Bosque to keep Johnathan in the school he grew to love.

“I didn’t want to let down my son,” she told the Journal.

While local private schools the Journal spoke to are largely reporting that enrollment is holding steady, the schools are seeing they need to ramp up financial assistance because of economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

“We were anticipating … more families requesting financial aid, very similar to what we saw in 2008,” Bosque School director of enrollment Ryan Hannon said about the coming school year, referring to the Great Recession.

The Bosque School Community Commitment Fund, which has about $40,000, was created to help parents such as Siarza who were financially hit by COVID-19. That’s separate from the school’s typical financial aid, budgeted at $3.8 million annually.

Tuition at Bosque is $23,070 for the 2020-21 academic year.

Overall, Bosque is seeing a higher rate of families accepting admission offers this year than last, and enrollment is on par, Hannon said.

During the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate rose from its lowest point in a decade to its highest point on record in just a couple of months.

At St. Michael’s High School, a Santa Fe private school, officials are expecting their families will face challenges, which could reduce enrollment.

“There’s a chance that we may lose some kids,” principal Sam Govia said, adding that school officials don’t know how many students will leave.

Tuition at St. Michael’s – a little more than $10,000 per year – makes up the bulk of the school’s revenue, Govia said. Any reduction in students, therefore, could put the school in a difficult financial position.

When the pandemic hit New Mexico, St. Michael’s began a program to help families struggling to make tuition payments.

“There was a large number of our parents who were furloughed or laid off,” Govia said.

Albuquerque Academy, where tuition is $25,390, is fully enrolled for the next school year. But Andy Watson, the head of the school, said that if revenue from tuition declines, the school could fall back on its endowment and alumni donations in the short term.

Watson said the school is projecting roughly $5 million for financial aid next year, which is higher than in previous years. That translates to “well above 300 kids.”

To the north, Santa Fe Preparatory School is expecting enrollment to hold steady into the next school year, too. But that doesn’t mean money won’t be a challenge.

Jim Leonard, head of school at Santa Fe Prep, said that while revenue won’t be significantly affected, he expects that more of the school’s 325 students will need assistance as the financial shock from the pandemic deepens.

At Santa Fe Prep, 37% of families receive some sort of tuition assistance, compared with the national average of 20%. Despite that high number, Leonard said, the $1.5 million the school spends on aid each year will most likely have to increase.

“That might need to go up by 5% to 10%,” he said.

Another complication is maintaining the school’s $20 million endowment, the main source of financial aid for students. Leonard said that the school relies on fundraising to replenish the endowment but that the current economic situation might make that challenging.

“I think that it’s going to be a difficult fundraising environment, so that’s an issue,” Leonard said.

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