Paying for Private School
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The Facts About Financial Aid
Increased tuitions for the upcoming school year are a reality for the majority of Hawaii’s independent schools, a necessity, the schools say, in order to pay for their own mounting costs. However, across the board, tuition only increased about 3 percent, almost half the standard 5 percent to 6 percent increase. “The institutions themselves have to think about their own teachers, who have mortgages, who have payments, and balance it out,” says Lee. “The schools were in a difficult position. But most of us did increase tuition at a smaller rate than in years past.”
Tuition assistance generally comes in three forms: need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships and tuition payment plans or tuition loan programs. “Affording a quality education does take some planning,” says Robert Witt, the executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS), “and most families employ several strategies to keep costs within reach.” Need-based financial-aid requests are up, but so, thankfully, are most of the schools’ financial-aid budgets. Iolani School saw a 76 percent increase in financial-aid applications from currently enrolled families who had never before requested aid, and reacted to this by increasing its financial aid awards by roughly 25 percent, from $2 million for the 2008-2009 academic year to a little more than $2.5 million for the current year. At Punahou School, 77 returning families who had never previously requested aid did just that. To offset the increase, Punahou increased its aid budget by 10 percent and set aside a reserve of $350,000 for the second semester of the 2008-2009 school year, with any remaining reserve funds rolling into 2009-2010. Some schools experienced an increase in requests but were unable to meet everyone’s needs, such as Hawaii Baptist Academy, which saw a 30 percent increase. “For those who qualify for full need,” says Lee, “HBA normally can afford to give families a little less than half the annual tuition, and this year, the school had to drop that limit.”
When applying for financial aid, remember these general rules of thumb: The admissions and financial-aid processes are completely separate, so applying for aid will not affect your child’s chances of being accepted. Leave any doubts at the door, as it never hurts to apply. “Even if you’re not sure you can afford it, apply and find out,” says Elaine Nelson, Seabury Hall’s director of admissions. “Don’t let that stop you from going through the admissions process and looking at schools.” If you’re new to the process and find the paperwork daunting, be sure to ask questions. “The best source of information lies with the admissions and financial-aid officers at Hawaii’s private schools, who will be able to explain a full range of options for your consideration,” says Witt.
Every school has its own application process, so know the requirements before you apply. The goal is to paint the clearest possible picture of your financial situation so the financial-aid committee can make the most accurate assessment of your family’s need. To help with this, some schools ask parents to write an optional narrative detailing why they require tuition assistance—for example, are there any extenuating circumstances (divorce, job loss, etc.) and how many siblings attend private schools. “Sometimes on the financial-aid applications the questions are structured so that [parents] can’t fully explain their financial situations,” says Tracy Packer, Honolulu Waldorf School’s finance manager. “So sometimes … I ask [parents] to submit a letter addressed to our financial-aid committee and articulate anything that they’d like the committee to consider.”
Perhaps the most important to-do on your financial-aid checklist is to file your paperwork as early as possible. “Apply early,” says Lori Carlos, Maryknoll School’s director of admissions. “The award amount [we’re dispersing] right now in June is way different from what we gave in March and [later] our hands are tied because the money’s not there.”
In addition to applying for aid, check to see if your school offers payment plans that allow you to pay tuition in increments over a period of time. It’s also worthwhile to ask about multichild discounts, which can significantly cut costs if you’re sending more than one child to the same school. For example, at Honolulu Waldorf School, families are eligible for discounts of 10 percent for the second child and 15 percent for additional siblings.
The majority of tuition-assistance dollars doled out annually are via need-based, financial-aid packages; merit-based scholarships, while offered by a number of schools, are not as prevalent. St. Andrew’s Priory School, an all-girls Episcopal school, offers the Queen Emma Merit Scholarship to students who demonstrate academic excellence. If you plan to enroll junior at one of Hawaii’s K-12 Catholic schools, you may be eligible for a need-based scholarship from the St. Augustine Educational Foundation (www.augustinefoundation.org). For the upcoming school year, approximately 450 scholarships in the amounts of $1,000 for grades K-8 and $1,250 for grades 9-12 will be awarded.
The Pauahi Keiki Scholars Kindergarten Program gave $1.2 million in tuition assistance for the 2008-2009 school year to kindergarteners attending one of 70-plus participating non-Kamehameha private schools throughout the state (for a list, visit www.ksbe.edu/finaid). To the extent permitted by law, preference for this scholarship is given to applicants of Hawaiian ancestry.