JSerra Sees Surge in Interest From Parents Dissatisfied with Public Schools

* The Orange County Business Journal published a feature story today examining how California’s budget crisis is driving interest in private education.

JSerra is included prominently in the story, which is published below.

By Michael Volpe

The county’s top private schools are seeing a surge of interest, but that might not translate to more students for them.

Frank Talarico

From Anaheim-based, six-campus Fairmont Private Schools to San Juan Capistrano’s JSerra Catholic High School, private schools are seeing increased inquiries from parents, some of whom are dissatisfied with the current state of the county’s public school system, which is facing state budget cuts of about $280 million in the next school year.

“Our inquiries are up over the last few months with over 100 new applications,” said Robertson Chandler, chief executive at Fairmont.

But many of the applications are from families who can’t afford private school tuition, according to administrators.
As a result, private schools are looking to increase the amount of financial aid available to families.
St. Mary and All Angels School in Aliso Viejo bumped up its financial aid by 40% to accommodate some of these applicants.

Catholic high school JSerra allocated about $800,000 in financial assistance in the current academic year and is looking to increase it for next year’s crop of students.

“We don’t want money to be a reason that students can’t come to JSerra or can’t stay at JSerra,” said Frank Talarico, chief executive.

Santa Margarita Catholic High School increased its financial assistance by 16% for the upcoming school year. In the past two years, the school has increased tuition assistance by 35%.

The high school allocated $750,000 for the upcoming school year to be used for tuition assistance, which comes from school, private and church resources.

But, like others, the school doesn’t expect to meet all of the demand and is putting more effort into fundraising.
The effort on financial aid is being used not only to attract new students, but also to retain those who are now enrolled.

“It’s a daily decision our families are facing,” said Paul Carey, president of Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita. “I deal with 20 families a week who are asking, ‘How do I meet my utility bills and make this month’s tuition payment?’”

Santa Margarita has in some cases increased the number of months a family has to meet their tuition expenses and re-evaluated some families’ financial aid allocations.

Business Decision

It isn’t a purely altruistic move for the private schools, which run like businesses.
Chandler estimates many private schools throughout the country have seen their enrollment drop anywhere from 7% to 12% in the past two years.

Having more financial aid is drawing applications.

Many private schools have seen the topic of financial aid come up from the beginning of the application process. It’s a change from the past where parents rarely brought up the need for assistance until late in the process.

“There is a culture of people comfortable about asking for financial aid as opposed to not even visiting,” said John O’Brien, director at St. Mary.

Financial aid has become a big part of JSerra’s message to current and prospective students, according to Talarico.

“JSerra has a reputation for being really expensive or not flexible with financial aid, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

Newport Beach’s Sage Hill School and others differ on how financial aid grants are given. Often a family earning as much as $100,000 a year could qualify for a sizable grant, according to Gordon McNeill, head of Sage Hill School.

“A lot of families who qualify don’t know they could qualify,” he said. “We encourage our families to go through the process and many have been surprised by the results.”

In many cases, private schools have frozen tuition costs.

“We were hearing from families that with the economy the way it was and coupled with increasing questions about financial aid, we held tuition at the same level as last year,” said St. Mary’s O’Brien.

But even with those measures, many applicants will not be able to afford to send their children to private school.

“Some families, even if they get some type of aid, are not used to paying for school in any shape or form,” McNeill said. “Inquires are up, but the jury is out until people sign on the dotted line that they are really going to come.”