So, what's happening here? Why are these highly competitive schools offering a free education to children from families with incomes below $75,000? Simply because they want to make their excellent educations available to a wider constituency. When tuition and expenses creep into the $45,000 range, it means that only a tiny percentage of American families can afford to attend those schools. Schooling has to be free in order to attract students from families making less than $75,000.
Harvard University took the initiative in fall of 2007 by announcing that children from families making less than $60,000 would not pay if they were admitted to the university. Yale and Dartmouth offer similar programs. Just about every university offers financial aid. However, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth simply draw a clear line and state unequivocally that families below that $60,000 threshhold don't have to pay.
Financial aid sounds complicated. It often is. On the other hand, with institutions like Exeter, Groton and St. Paul's blazing a need-based trail for financial aid, the process just became a whole lot easier. Make sure you ask about financial aid programs. The financial aid officers at the schools in which you are interested are experienced and helpful. Ask.
Several schools around the country are tuition free or virtually so by design:
- De Marillac Middle School, San Francisco, CA
- Epiphany School, Dorchester, MA
- Girard College, Philadelphia, PA
- The Glenwood School, Glenwood, IL
- Milton Hershey School, Hershey, PA
- Regis High School, New York, NY
The Cristo Rey Model
Another option is the Cristo Rey model. The Jesuits came up with a work study approach to helping families in inner cities finance a private school education. It has been highly successful and has attracted substantial corporate support. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has championed this model as it tries to transform American education.
Each private school offers its own financial aid program. So do not assume that the amount of financial aid which one school offers you will be the same as another or other schools. Always ask each school. Be prepared to file The Parents' Financial Statement as part of your documentation. Schools use The School and Student Service for Financial Aid, a third party service operated by the National Association of Independent Schools, to document your financial need. My last piece of advice is common sense: apply well ahead of each school's published deadlines.