Private schools' growth slowed, not stopped by sluggish economy
Faculty and student families are feeling the effects of the national economic crisis, but so far, private schools in north and west Harris County say the institutions themselves are still counting their blessings.
Some schools that serve Katy and Cy-Fair are reporting enrollment growth — although slower than expected - along with increases in requests for financial assistance.
School officials say these mostly faith-based schools continue to be a priority with parents, even as families may have to cut back on other expenses.
"We're not growing as we thought we would, but we're still growing," said Kirk Rightmire, director of Christian education and head of school, at Katy's Faith West Academy, 2225 Porter Road. "We do have families who will sacrifice their new car payment to keep their kids in Christian education."
Enrollment this year is up nearly 7 percent at interdenominational Cypress Christian School, 11123 Cypress N. Houston Road, with waiting lists in some classes, said admissions director Angie Ramirez.
In its 33rd year, the school had 120 new students in kindergarten through high school, with a higher-than-typical 88 percent re-enrollment from last year. High school tuition is $10,300.
Enrollment stands at 561, up from 526 last year, with the biggest increases at the elementary and high school.
Ramirez said families are feeling the pinch from the slow economy, and the school has lost some students due to job cuts. But those who remain place a high priority on Christian education.
"Our student body is working middle class … so it's a huge sacrifice for our parents, but what else are you going to invest in - your house? Your car?"
The school is "middle of the road to the low end" in terms of tuition, Ramirez said. School leaders approved an overall tuition hike, but at a slower rate of increase than in years past. They also approved a $370 drop in kindergarten tuition to $7,400, specifically to help families make the transition from private preschool.
"We still had an increase, but we did slow down the rate at which it increased," Ramirez said. "We have not seen a negative effect from the economy overall. However, we are not blind to what is going on out there."
Enrollment also is up at Pope John XXIII High School, 1800 West Grand Parkway N., although requests for financial aid have risen even faster, said principal Tim Petersen.
The Catholic high school opened in 2004 with a freshman class of 47 and has added a class each year. This year, the freshman class numbers 99. Overall enrollment went from 270 last year to 315 this year.
Requests for financial aid are up by 24 percent, he said.
"We had people this year who applied for financial aid who did not last year or the year before. The economy has affected their budget so they can't afford the cost of tuition," Petersen said.
Some have lost jobs; others work on commission and have reduced income.The school is addressing the slow economy by keeping tuition down, and working on a source of low-interest tuition loans with a bank.
The school's $11,000 per-year tuition is several thousand dollars less than other Houston area Catholic schools, the principal said.
The economy has affected the school in other ways, Petersen said. While some families relocated suddenly because of job situations, others put off the decision to enroll until this summer - leaving the school scrambling to match teachers with the actual number of students.
"We didn't think we were going to hit that 315 mark until a late influx of students in July and August," he said. While the school tries to keep class sizes at 20, "we ended up with some classes a little bit larger than we anticipated."
At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, 6646 Addicks Satsuma, enrollment is up about 3 percent, but officials are waiting to see what happens with the fall fundraiser and November gala.
Principal Jan Krametbauer said the 15-year-old school, with 540 students pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, uses fundraising to help pay for classroom technology, playground equipment and fine arts.
Fundraising also helps provide tuition assistance. Requests for that are up this year, Krametbauer said.
While enrollment is "strong," Krametbauer shares in the uncertainty that a tough economy brings to private schools. "I would think everybody is a little anxious or concerned about what the future brings. For us, there's the unknown with all the extras that you want to be able to provide the kids."
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