Let's look at the facts.
Conservative Investment Policies
The investment approach for private school endowments has historically been a conservative, cautious approach. Trustees and their advisors have generally been good stewards of their finances. They avoided risky investments such as derivatives and real estate despite calls from some quarters to maximize returns. The reason for the decline in their portfolio value is simple: just about every investment-grade instrument declined.
Back in the 90s, sustainability became an important principle in private school mission statements and philosophies. The National Association of Independent Schools has taken a leadership role in supporting all kinds of sustainability initiatives including financial sustainability with its 1,500 member schools.
From the Nais: "In order for independent schools to thrive in the 21st century, NAIS believes that they must be sustainable along five dimensions: financial, demographic, programmatic, environmental, and global."
As a result, schools with significant endowments (greater than $10 million) generally were well-positioned to weather the economic storm which 2009 brought on with a vengeance.
Financial Aid is a Priority
The Foundation Center keeps Forms 990 for every non-profit organization which files with the IRS. It is fairly easy to see how much the school reported as income and expenses as well as a wealth of other data. Note that it is frankly impossible to compare apples to apples when it comes to private schools. Even their accounting and reporting varies from school to school. But a review of the data paints the same picture: costs are rising.
Another fact to consider is that tuition charged by a school does not completely offset expenses. That is why you will see your tuition bill filled with additional charges for technology, communications, laundry, athletics, uniforms and so on. These sundries, as the more bespoke schools style them, vary from school to school.
At the bottom of the scale in terms of fees are the parochial schools. The Roman Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Christian and Muslim schools offer great educations for a very reasonable cost. Most of these schools are day schools. Schools like the Cristo del Rey schools specifically target at risk children from families which could not otherwise afford a private school education.
Helping the affordability factor is the initiative taken by several leading prep schools. Read Private School May Be Free If You Make Less Than $75,000 for details.
Remember: most private schools offer generous financial aid. Be sure to ask each school on your list. Don't forget