The coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every aspect of normal life, and the economic side of things is no exception. The stock markets have reached lows the country has not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, and in the last six weeks alone, 30.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment. As a private school, Saint Paul Academy and Summit School is facing the challenge of balancing a tuition-based income model with helping those families hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
Head of School Brynn Roberts is confident the school can sustain requests by families in need and encourages those seeking help to reach out to the Admission Department. Recently, Roberts and the Board of Trustees have developed a plan to assist families with affording SPAs tuition.
Roberts gave an overview of the process for families in need of financial assistance. He said, “We asked people that are experiencing financial difficulties in this situation just to come by and have a confidential conversation with the admissions office, and to give us a memorandum and to submit an application for financial aid. We ask them to explain to us where you are [financially] and how long you think this will affect you. We look at all the requests and will offer support for the next year to people who need it,” he continued, “The Board of Trustees is thoroughly behind this, we put money into the financial aid pool, which is well over $4 million now. Frankly, we want to take care of everybody who frankly has a need.”
Roberts added that the school recognizes not everybody can work from home, and how those in the small business and other industries are hurt economically more than almost anybody else. “We knew that we were going to have people hurting [during the pandemic] so there was no hesitation on my part as leader of the school to go to the Board of Trustees and make this judgment, and I think that reflects who we are as a school.”
As a private school, SPA depends on a tuition-based income model (Roberts estimates somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the school’s revenue comes from tuition dollars). Roberts commented on the perceived difficulties and realities of a private school in this unprecedented financial climate and how the school is economically able to support families.
“As a private school, our principal source of income is from tuition. If our admissions are not strong, we, as an economic organization, are in deep trouble.”
Luckily, according to Roberts, the pandemic has not affected admission applications for 2020-21 school year. He notes SPA is accepting applications at “the same rate as we were last year.”
Roberts is not particularly concerned about the school’s financial well-being in the near future. “We have more people who want to come. We have people who are asking us, even now, if they can apply. So that’s a strong source of income. And because we’re doing so well on applications, that means we were going to do well financially”
The second source of income at the school’s dispense to help families comes from SPA’s financial reserves. While Robert’s notes, “We didn’t plan for this [pandemic], COVID-19 is the event you can’t really plan for,” he added that the school was and is “prepared to use a portion of our financial reserves to support the community.”
Looking at the private school world, Roberts predicts many schools will suffer because of the pandemic. “There are some schools that will really suffer enrollment drops and they’ll end up having to shrink. We’re fortunate right now, that hasn’t been the case. I think some schools will find it very hard to sustain their enrollment. Right now, we’re not in that category, but this could go on for a couple of years. It could tax everybody.”
While the current situation is less than ideal for any school, Roberts sees one possible benefit in how schools use technology.
“I think the long term impact of this is that we’re going to learn things about how to use technology in education, and we’re going to become better at it than we’ve ever been. And this is going to have some impact on long term impact on education, the independent schools of the world, but I don’t know what exactly it will be.” Adding an honest thought about the effect on our community he said, “I think that the preliminary conclusions from people, this is quite legitimate, is that everyone wants to be back in school.”
Roberts also commended the SPA community on their response to this unique situation.
“I am immensely proud of what the students and the faculty and families have done in this. This has been hard on people. […] And what I’ve been deeply impressed by is the speed with which we and the teachers were able to convert their world into a very different medium for teaching and teach from their home.”
On a concluding note, Roberts echoes the hopes to be back on campus shared by many students and faculty alike.
“If we continue to think positively about this and our response is: ‘how do we make this work to get through this?’, we’ll get through it and be stronger as a community at the end. And I honestly hope that we’re physically back in school in August, it may be with social distancing and some other modifications, but I think I join everybody at SPA in saying we want to be back on campus.”