Christian Heritage School has lowered their kindergarten class tuition rate to $2,300 for the upcoming school year in an attempt to attract more students at a time when private schools in Steamboat are seeing lower enrollment. Above, Christian Heritage elementary student Jameson Allee raises his hand during a class in April.

Photo by John F. Russell

Christian Heritage School has lowered their kindergarten class tuition rate to $2,300 for the upcoming school year in an attempt to attract more students at a time when private schools in Steamboat are seeing lower enrollment. Above, Christian Heritage elementary student Jameson Allee raises his hand during a class in April.

Private schools in Steamboat retool recruiting efforts

Private educators find new ways to attract students

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— Private schools in Steamboat Springs are turning to social media, advertising campaigns and new academic programming to attract more students as their enrollment numbers remain lower in the wake of the economic recession.

Christian Heritage School Administrator Dave Entwistle said this week that he has just fewer than 80 students enrolled for the upcoming school year. Last school year, 72 attended the private school west of Steamboat, a decline from the 107 students enrolled the year before.

“I would love to get us to 90 kids before the school year gets started,” Entwistle said.

In addition to running weekly advertisements, the school has reduced its kindergarten class tuition rate from $6,500 to $2,300 to compete with costs of area public schools. Entwistle said the school also is offering a total of $41,000 in financial aid to families who send their children to the private school for the 2011-12 school year, double what was offered last year.

“As a school we’re doing everything we can to try and get more kids here,” he said. “We’re trying to make it more affordable. We don’t get any tax dollars, so it’s a challenge to make it all work.”

He said other initiatives he hopes will attract students this year include the addition of Advanced Placement classes and a high school mission trip to Uganda.

“We’re hoping to be not just a private school or an alternative to the public education system,” he said. “We’re trying to be an exceptional source of education.”

Meanwhile, The Lowell Whiteman School on Routt County Road 36 is looking to attract students who live thousands of miles away to its campus tucked north of Strawberry Park.

“One of the things we haven’t done much of is recruit international students,” Head of School Chris Taylor said.

He said the school is reaching out to contacts in Hong Kong and Taipei to recruit students at a time when enrollment is down again. Whiteman’s enrollment last school year was 76 students, and admissions director Derek Svennungsen said he will spend the next three weeks trying to get next year’s enrollment numbers into the low 60s.

“That’s not our comfort zone, but I’ve got to believe it will be a one-year blip because of the economy,” he said.

The school had 106 students during the 2006-07 school year. Svennungsen said he also will spend more time traveling this year to recruit new students.

“Our enrollment is down, but we knew that would happen,” Taylor said. “This economy has been ferocious. For people to spend $40,000 a year on their child’s education is hard these days.”

In addition to stepping up recruiting efforts, The Lowell Whiteman School, a high school, plans to continue expanding its social media presence and has hired a new learning specialist who will work with children who have identified learning deficiencies.

Taylor doesn’t tweet, but other faculty members do, and he said the school is working to redesign its website and possibly add a school blog to complement the campus’ Facebook page, which has just over 400 fans and regularly posts school stories and updates.

By the numbers

Steamboat private school tuition rates

■ Christian Heritage School

Kindergarten: $2,300

Elementary: $6,500

Secondary: $6,800

■ The Lowell Whiteman School

Day students: $18,200

Boarding students: $33,900

■ Lowell Whiteman Primary School $12,900

Median day-student tuition rate for Colorado Association of Independent Schools members:

2007-08: $14,525

2008-09: $15,378

2009-10: $16,114

2010-11: $16,879

Source: National Association

of Independent Schools

The Lowell Whiteman Primary School, Steamboat’s third private school option and a K-8 facility, is an exception to the enrollment decline experienced by its counterparts.

New Head of School Sharon Mensing said Wednesday that the school will start this fall at its full capacity of 66 students.

Enrollment stabilizing

The effort by private schools in Steamboat to increase enrollment comes at a time when a national organization that represents 1,400 private schools nationwide, including both Lowell Whiteman schools, reports that the enrollment numbers of independent schools are stabilizing after a drop during the recession.

Data released by the National Association of Independent Schools shows that overall enrollment in the 32 schools they represent in Colorado dropped less than 2 percent between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, and then increased by about half a percent this year.

Overall, enrollment growth from 2005-06 to 2010-11 was less than 2 percent.

NAIS spokeswoman Myra McGovern said Thursday that even though the schools saw drops in enrollment during the recession, the number of students attending them has stabilized.

“Everyone thinks that because there is a recession, private schools must be suffering,” she said. “Enrollment has taken a couple of dips over the past few years during the recession, but in the aggregate, it’s been quite steady.”

But she said private schools in areas like Steamboat Springs have taken a larger hit because of what their economies are based on.

“Some of the areas (where) we’ve had downturns in enrollment have economies that are focused heavily on tourism and real estate,” she said. “I think that’s because those industries have taken such dramatic hits.”

Worth the cost?

An NAIS survey conducted in 2009 asked more than 2,200 parents of children attending private schools in the U.S. how the economic recession was affecting their decision to pay for their child’s education at an independent school. The results showed a majority of parents said they would consider deferring costs associated with vacations, eating out and renovating their homes, among other things, before taking their child out of a private school.

But McGovern said that data collected from its schools show that most are not lowering their tuition rates as their enrollment numbers drop because they cannot afford to. Instead, they’re increasing tuition to cover rising costs.

“Their expenses go up despite a stagnating economy,” she said, citing health insurance and the costs associated with maintaining a lower student-to-teacher ratio as expenses that prohibit tuition hikes.

“The way that schools have maintained steady enrollment is to increase financial aid dramatically.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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