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Private Schools to Parents: What Recession?

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Bloomberg has to trim the budget by $4 billion, 100,000 jobs have been lost since September 11, and the entire city seems to be on sale. So it might provide (some) comfort to learn that at least one thing is still going up -- private-school tuition. The dreaded annual letters have gone out from some of the more prominent schools, and the news for parents is achingly familiar: Horace Mann is up almost 7 percent, as is Fieldston; Chapin is up 5 percent, around the same as last year.

Indeed, these schools (which charge about $20,000 a year) seem to be counting on the fact that -- even now -- parents won't greet the hikes with gasps of outrage. (Or, perhaps more to the point, that they won't pull their kids out of institutions that still have waiting lists.) "Our tuition went up 6 percent," says Diane Ferrante, a financial officer at Dalton. "Sometimes it's 4.5, sometimes it's 5. It's maybe on the slightly higher end of average. But I believe the families are accustomed to an increase every year."

Of course, this year's letters are a touch more diplomatic. "We recognize the economy is not as robust as it was," reads Fieldston's, assuring parents that while a $1,425 increase helps provide financial aid for some students, it "does not nearly meet the long-term needs of our school." And some schools believe that the actual cost of tuition doesn't have much of a bearing on what they do -- as in, if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it. "I'm not interested in speaking about it," says Chapin's chief financial officer, Jay Matthews, who is seconded by Joanna Dean, director of development at St. Ann's: "You know, we don't really consider that relevant to what the school's all about."


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