Factors Include Income Inequality, Rising Rates of Tuition

There’s no doubt that the majority of private K-12 schools are schools for the wealthy. This makes most private school leaders and teachers very uncomfortable because many of the private schools in our country are faith-based institutions with a mission to serve the poor.

Yet, the economics of modern America have forced private K-12 education to be schools of the affluent. According to a December 2017 study on private school enrollment rates, The Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis found that the private school enrollment rate of middle-income families has declined over the last 50 years.

At the same time, the enrollment rates of children from high income families has remained fairly stable and poor families have realized a slight decrease. This Stanford project supports the recent findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which cites 26 percent of wealthy American families send their children to private schools.

That same study found that only seven percent of the middle class and only four percent of families whose income is in the 20th percentile sent their children to private schools. Forty years ago, these numbers were different — 31 percent of wealthy families, 24 percent of middle-class families, and 10 percent of low income families sent their children to private schools. The change in these numbers over time is alarming.

Where did the Middle-Class Students Go? 

The answer is simple. The combination of our country’s increasing income inequality coupled with the rising rates of private school tuition has forced the majority of middle-class families to withdraw from private K-12 education.

They simply cannot afford a private school education for their children. More importantly, their flight from private schools exposes a dangerous pattern in our education/economic future. We know that:

  • The labor market pays higher wages for greater postsecondary educational attainment.
  • Private schools have a better record of preparing their students for success in postsecondary environments.
  • In order to meet the expenses of providing a quality education, private school tuitions are rising.
  • With increasing income, only the relatively affluent families can afford the higher tuition for their children to attend schools.

And so, wealthy children attend schools that prepare them for college. Employers pay better wages for successful college students. College graduates send their children to private schools that prepare them for success in college.

Socially, the missing component in this process is that 17 percent of American middle-class families are no longer breaking into this cycle and changing the trajectory of their children’s economic future.

There is Hope

In the last decade, 30 states have attempted to address this economic disparity by providing parents with middle and lower socioeconomic means an opportunity to send their children to a private school by ways of a voucher, tuition tax credit, or an education savings account.

Thankfully, the majority of state governments have recognized the precariousness of this education sequence and are doing their best to make the necessary change. Ironically, our Federal government has been doing the same thing for more than 50 years.

The US Department of Education provides federal funds to assist children attending public and private schools with academic assistance in math, reading, and science based on family economics. The Johnson Administration recognized that poverty and schooling are linked and created Title I – an academic program meant to break the cycle of poverty.  Providing Title I services to qualifying children in private schools is one of the services FACTS Education Solutions offers our partner private schools.

While some schools have tested out indexed or variable tuition models, there are other ways schools can assist middle-class families afford private school:

  • Faith-based schools can take up an Angel Fund collection during church for middle-class families.
  • Establish scholarship foundations specifically for middle-class students.
  • Adjust financial aid formulas to accommodate the middle class.
  • Offer tuition payment plans to help break up the cost of tuition throughout the year.

We’d love to hear other ideas for how to make tuition more affordable. How is your school reaching the middle class? Let us know here.