Educated Choices

How to pay for private education


Many parents in the New Orleans area opt for private schools. The choices of schools, each with its own priorities and educational goals, are myriad; there are 75 private schools in Orleans Parish and 32 in Jefferson Parish alone. Tuitions also vary greatly.

Once parents decide which school has the right educational focus, discipline structure and socio-economic mix of students for their child, they must determine how they are going to pay for tuition, fees, books and uniforms, which in most cases will equal or surpass what a family would pay in a year for, say, a car.

With tuitions that range from about $4,000 to $12,000 per year per child -- not including registration and activity fees, uniforms and books -- many schools offer options and some special programs to help parents come up with the required funds. Most schools have loan programs through financial institutions in which the bank will pay the tuition and parents pay a monthly loan payment throughout the school year.

Millicent Jones, senior vice president and director of education financing for First Bank & Trust, which administers such loans for more than 90 schools in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and Baton Rouge, says the interest rates vary slightly by school but average less than 10 percent on loans with 10- to 11-month terms.

Although the only criteria for receiving such a loan is that a child is accepted into a school, Jones says the default rate is negligible. "It's the commitment of the parent," she says. "They have decided to send their children to a certain school for whatever reason ... and the tuition financing program helps parents to budget the payments.

"We do what's best for our young people, and (financing through a bank) keeps the financial arrangement out of the dealings between the parents and the school. It allows the school to target and focus on the developmental progress of the student and the financial end is on us. Parents need this; it's a good product, and what it's all about is helping families."

At least one school, Academy of the Sacred Heart on St. Charles Avenue, also offers a bank loan program to finance the laptops required for each student. Despite the $9,150 tuition and $700 registration for high school students, finance officer Judy Richard Walker says the majority of parents opt to pay tuition up front without loan assistance. The school also offers a few academic scholarships, mostly to high school students.

In addition to tuition loans through Whitney Bank, Isidore Newman -- an Uptown nonsectarian co-ed school -- has a need-based financial aid program to help parents fund the $12,980-a-year high school tuition. Under that program, an independent company assesses how much tuition a family can afford and the rest is paid through a limited fund Newman has set up for that purpose. "Obviously our budget isn't big enough to accommodate everyone's needs," says admissions assistant Ladd Sheets, "but we do what we can."

To further help, the school organizes a sale in which students can buy uniforms donated to the school at a discount, and the parents club holds a used-textbook sale. Other schools also offer used book sales as well as programs to "recycle" uniforms donated by students.

So-called "work-study" programs also are options at some schools, with tuition rates being reduced in exchange for student service. St. Mary's Dominican will reduce a student's tuition, based on need, and the scholar then will be required to perform 50 hours of work either during the summer or throughout the school year. The amount of tuition reduction can change from year to year. "There's a pool of money every year and that's divided among the students who work," says admissions coordinator Cathy Rice. "How much they get depends on the pool (of money in a given year) and the number of applicants."

That school also offers scholarships to pay a portion of the $5,040 tuition and fees, some based on need and others on academic achievements. "It's as reasonable as we can make it," Rice says of the tuition schedule. "You want to be affordable to as many people as possible and still run a quality program. We try to draw students from all socio-economic groups."

The tuition loan is the only option to up-front payment of the $4,600 costs for students at Arden Cahill Academy, but the school has continued to thrive and grow since it opened in the 1970s.

In addition to loans from First Bank & Trust, Ursuline Academy offers tuition assistance to those who demonstrate need. "It's not full-tuition grants," director of development Mary Lee Harris says, "but it is help toward the ability to pay tuition." Those grants as well as scholarships are paid for through a fund drive the all-girl school holds every year among parents, alumni and other supporters. Besides the grants, some scholarships are awarded to incoming eighth graders based on academic achievement and service. "We are revising our whole scholarship program right now so we will be able to offer scholarships, both academic and need-based, to a diverse range of girls," Harris says. "Diversity is part of the core values we teach our girls; a broad socio-economic base is always sought. A broad racial mix is always a goal, because that is the real world."

Unlike many schools that offer classes from nursery to 12th grade, Ursuline's tuition is the same for all ages: $4,400 with a $300 registration fee.

Cabrini High School also offers academic scholarships for students entering eighth and ninth grades, and those are provided for all four years if the students maintain a 3.5 grade average, says admissions officer Jean Montgomery. To help economically strapped families, Cabrini offers a work-study program, but the amount of money budgeted for it can fluctuate from year to year.

St. Scholastica Academy in Covington also offers need-based financial aid on a yearly basis to students who have a hard time raising the $4,375 tuition. That school also allows parents to pay tuition by bank loan or credit card. "Some of these interest rates are so low on the credit cards it's to their advantage to do it that way," says director of admissions Elaine Simmons.

Archbishop Blenk High School, which this year charged tuition of $4,225 and registration of $400, has a number of programs to help finance their students' educations. There are six scholarships offered to incoming 8th and 9th graders as well as two scholarships dedicated to the children of Blenk alumni. In addition, any eighth or ninth grade student who places in the top 90 percent or higher on placement tests is awarded $500 scholarships every year through school. For families experiencing temporary financial hardships, Blenk has a special endowment started by alumni and corporations. "It's something that is definitely needed," admissions director Shannon Manieri says. "Some of the girls that are receiving money through that right now are some of our best students and are very active in the school."

Instead of offering parents a bank loan arrangement to pay the $4,840 tuition and $350 registration, Brother Martin High School finances the loans itself, saving parents monthly interest charges, says community relations director Sr. Joan. The school also offers some academic scholarships as well as a work-study program.

Jesuit High School, which charges $4,825 in tuition without any other fees, is dedicated to making sure any young man who qualifies academically can attend the Mid-City school, says director of development Ardley Hanemann. "We don't have bank financing, but we have need-based scholarships available," he says. "With those, the boys are expected to do a certain amount of service work around here, partially so they realize it's not a free ride. There are quite a few available, and we're proud to say no young man has ever been denied the opportunity of attending Jesuit because of a financial problem."

The use of state-issued textbooks, which many of the private schools allow students to use free of charge, along with used book sales also help to alleviate financial pressure and make Jesuit accessible to a more diverse group of students, a major goal of the school, Hanemann says.

"That has been a standard and philosophy of Jesuit High School for 156 years," he says. "We work hard to make sure we have a socially and economically diverse population because that is the world they are going to live in."

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