We were speaking with a prospective private school client regarding their enrollment goals, and the conversation turned to the question of whether the rise of charter schools has contributed to the trend of lower private school enrollment.
When we researched this question, we were frankly surprised by what the existing data revealed. The short answer is that while charter schools do affect private schools, research suggests that they do so in a specific way, and not to the extent that is generally believed.
A 2010 report by Rajashi Chakrabarti and Joydeep Roy revealed that private schools feel the most impact from charter schools within a two-mile radius. However, the first charter school in that radius drops enrollment at the private school by 1.19% per year, and each additional charter that opens within that radius only drops enrollment an additional 0.01%. This study also demonstrated that parochial schools are not disproportionately affected the presence of charter schools.
One of the major factors is that tuition has risen sharply while the middle class has stagnated. A recent article in The Atlantic observed that the average private school tuition in the United States is $11,000, which “renders them out of reach for most Americans.” Both The Atlantic and Chakrabarti’s report suggest that lower-income families have been most affected by the rise in tuition at Catholic schools, which used to keep tuition low by employing clergy and members of the monastery at lost cost, but which have more recently begun to employ lay-persons as instructors.
It is vital for schools to perform regular assessments of their school, the segment of the population they serve, and how they can best serve that population academically, economically, and socially. For example, many schools rely on school administration solutions that charge tens of thousands in unnecessary fees, even to schools in the one-hundred student range. Audit your own invoices from your administrative platform provider and calculate the monthly cost in transaction fees, credit card fees, overdraft fees, and late fees. If you haven’t looked at these numbers in a while, odds are you will be shocked.
The takeaway is that, yes, charter schools are taking some business from the private schools within their immediate area; however, private schools should not simply throw up their hands and blame the charters for all their woes. In fact, families are abandoning private schools for problems over which private schools do have some control.