When Ashley and Clark Leonard enrolled their son in a local independent school, they were excited about the prospect of him thriving in a new, smaller academic environment. He left his local public school after what the Leonards described as a “bullying situation.” However, mid-way though the year at his new school, the family decided that the private school was not a good fit.
“He just wasn’t happy, so we decided to take him out,” said Ashley, who lives in Bethesda, Md. “But we lost about $30,000.”
Now that the application period for most independent schools is over and acceptance letters have been disbursed, the next step in the process, for those fortunate enough to have been admitted, is making a commitment to one’s school of choice. This often requires that parents shell out a hefty deposit and sign a contract, agreeing, among other things, to pay tuition for the upcoming school year.
However, some families may change their financial situation and can no longer afford the tuition. Other families may relocate during the school year or have a child who becomes ill and is no longer able to attend school. Or, like the Leonards, a family may simply decide the school is no longer a good fit.
Many parents are surprised to learn that even if their circumstances change, their financial commitment to pay full tuition remains. The reason for this policy is largely budgetary. “Most schools require a contract and a deposit because the separation of a student does not materially decrease the expenses of the school since staff, services, and provisions are contracted for the year in advance,” said Mary Herridge, director of Enrollment Management for The Madeira School in McLean.
While making the decision to commit as methodically as possible is the best option for avoiding financial loss, there are circumstances that arise which are beyond one’s control. For these instances, many schools offer parents a safety net option.
“We offer tuition insurance and recommend that families purchase the plan as protection,” said Herridge.
If a family's financial situation changes, it is in everyone's best interests to work together to find a reasonable solution,” said Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association. “The school wants to make the situation work as much as the parent do, so the parents should immediately reach out to the school officials to see what can be done. Often times a school will temporarily reduce the fee, hoping that the family's situation will improve.”
The same advice holds true, says Sklarow in the event of an academic or behavioral issue: The first action should be a meeting with school officials. “They hope to retain the student and will work closely with families to find the necessary support, in most cases,” he said. “Of course, if the school judges there to be a danger to a child or fellow student, the help offer will be to assist with an outplacement.” An independent educational consultant may be helpful in case a therapeutic or intense learning disability option is needed.