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Why insanely costly private schools could (but don’t) charge even more

Thursday, July 9th, 2009


FUNNY HA-HA: Fieldstone grads

In the middle of the most recessive recession in decades, you’d think attendance at private schools might dip a bit. Nope, reports the Economist in a semi-horrifying story that makes you want to drown someone. In fact, even more parents are scrambling for the right to pay surreal, bankruptcy-inducing amounts:

Compared with last year, applications are up 14%,” says Mark Stanek, the principal of Ethical Culture Fieldston, a private school in New York. All through the application season he and his board of governors had been on tenterhooks, waiting to see if financial turmoil would cut the number of parents prepared to pay $32,000-34,000 a year to educate a child…

How unnerving for the board of governors! Those tenterhooks can really hurt. Overall, the Economist finds “little sign of a meltdown in private schooling” in America, while finding a nice smattering of signs that such schools will raise fees by 2-to-4 percent this fall. Two theories: 1) Parents fear the recession will further shit-ify public schools; 2) They assume that application rates at the snoot-schools (which are really selling college-placement guarantees) will be down, increasing their kid’s chances.

After amassing
proof that these institutions could get away with charging way more (in much the same way that Rosemary’s Baby‘s heroine amasses evidence that her husband’s in league with Satan), the report offers a nice reality check:

So why aren’t fees even higher? [The likely explanation] is that schools’ quality would decline if they simply sold places to the highest bidders. Part of what they offer is the chance to learn with clever classmates, and if fees were too high the pool of brainy potential pupils would become too shallow.

Whew! That was close.

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