In response to parental pressure and archdiocesan prodding, St. Blaise Regional School in Manayunk released a revised tuition schedule last week aimed at addressing a shortfall in expected enrollment.
While the revised cost schedule emphasized that individual tuition “will reflect the actual cost to educate each student,” under the revised schedule, families with multiple students enrolled in St. Blaise would receive graduated discounts for each additional student.
For Catholic families registered with a parish, tuition for one student will remain at $4,200. Reductions in price will occur for every additional child, up to and including four children, for whom total tuition would be $13,800. The schedule signals that this represents a $3,000 reduction.
For non-parishioners and non-Catholics, tuition at St. Blaise remains at $5,200 per student, with no additional reductions.
The revised tuition schedule related that “further clarification” from the Archdiocesan Office for Catholic Education triggered the revision, along with feedback from parents and parishioners “concerning the financial challenges they face” in meeting the new tuition levels.
Accordingly, a new registration date has been set for Apr. 16.
Comparing the numbers
As outlined in the original registration letters sent home to parents on Mar. 15, St. Blaise tuition for local parishioners was $4,200, with no additional reductions.
For many families, this represented a sizable increase in their tuition.
This raise would have effectively doubled tuition for parents at St. Bridget, many of whom pay approximately $2,000 per child.
Sean Stevens, a St. Bridget parent leading an effort to prevent the closing of the East Falls school, called the original tuition increase “disturbing”, and suggested that with the additional funds, both St. Bridget and Holy Child – the regional school St. Blaise is set to replace – “each could have been operated independently with little or no assistance from their respective parishes.”
This new tuition rate is somewhat higher than national trends.
Carol Ann MacGregor, a PhD candidate at Princeton University who studies Catholic school closures, underscored parental observations that St. Blaise tuition is higher than average.
MacGregor relayed that the 2011-2012 National Catholic Education Association [NCEA] reports a mean tuition rate of $3,673 for elementary schools, making St. Blaise’s tuition “above average,” in MacGregor’s words.
The NCEA report indicated the mean tuition rate is approximately 62-percent of actual costs per pupil – $5,387. Approximately 93-percent of elementary schools provide some form of tuition assistance, according to the NCEA website.
However, MacGregor suggested the NCEA enrollment figures might include the tuition rates of elite Catholic academies or preparatory schools, thus inflating the average tuition.
Readjusting the tuition pay scale
Documents available on the Holy Child website may shed some light on how this accommodation was reached.
Minutes from an Apr. 3 St. Blaise Implementation Committee meeting indicate that at the time of the meeting, 148 students were enrolled – significantly less than the 325 students that the same committee had projected the prior month.
The document reported that the original tuition rate was discussed as a possible reason for the low enrollment. In addition, the efforts of St. Bridget School affiliates to keep their school open and public perception of low enrollment at St. Blaise were listed as potential contributing factors.
As a result of this meeting, the new tuition schedule was approved and posted on the St. Blaise website, with distribution to occur to St. Bridget families on Apr. 4 and Holy Child families on Apr. 10.
Susan Canio, current principal at St. Bridget and future principal of St. Blaise, and Archdiocese spokespersons were not immediately available for comment.
While the tuition increases are dramatic, the revised schedule also includes opportunities for scholarship.
Scholarships will be handled on a per-family basis by the individual parishes.
One parish affected by the increases outlined how it will handle its scholarship proceedings.
Owing to excess money resulting from a lease signed with Green Woods Charter School, St. Mary of the Assumption in Manayunk is offering what it calls a “St. Mary Heritage Grant” to offset tuition.
“The grant will potentially offer financial support to active and participating Catholic families of St. Mary Parish who decide to send their children to the new St. Blaise School, according to St. Mary’s website.
The parish will provide a $1,000 scholarship for practicing Catholics. In addition, a “generic grant” is being offered, which is anticipated to be $350 per student.
Additional need-based grants are considered on an individual basis, the website noted.
An act of desperation?
Reaction to these increases from St. Bridget parents has been dim.
Tracy McDonald, a St. Bridget parent, said that the revised tuition schedule feels “a little like desperation.”
McDonald related that many parents she’s spoken with are concerned about the low enrollment figures, and fear that St. Blaise may be in danger of not opening.
However, she indicated there may be another reason for low enrollment, outside of the financial impact of the tuition hike.
“Parents are still not enrolling because of the way they were treated,” she said.