Is $40,000 A Year For Grade School Really Worth It?

When our first daughter was born nearly four years ago, my husband went through a period where he was agonizing over how we were going to save for college. Of course, if you’ve been following the news about higher education over the last few years you know that what’s going on at America’s universities borders usury and corruption. Over 100 schools in the country — including one public university — now charge over $50,000 a year tuition and board.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal is now reporting that this obscene tuition creep is affecting grade schools:

The Riverdale Country School will charge $40,450 for high-school students in the coming year, the first time a New York private school has topped $40,000 in annual tuition.

Tuition costs at the city’s private schools, which breached $30,000 just five years ago, have climbed 79% in the past decade. The best schools have no trouble getting enough students. Still, school administrators and academic experts said they are increasingly worried about the effects of rising tuition.

Now I realize this is New York where everything is obscenely expensive and maybe there’s enough concentrated wealth to justify this. However, where we live in the D.C. area, I know of a number of schools charging over $20,000. The price for private school has been increasing rapidly everywhere.

This is especially maddening as prices are no doubt skyrocketing because the failure of public schools has increased demand. Per pupil spending in the D.C. school district — one of the worst in the country — is about $25,000 to get an education so bad most parents with any resources to spare are scrambling to get their kids into private schools. So parents are spending money twice over — first with high taxes to pay for a dismal public school system they won’t let their kids go near and then they shell out for private school tuition.

However, while I think supply and demand explains some of it, I can’t help but think that the problem is cultural as well. We’re so ingrained to think that education is “the best investment you can make for your child” that we don’t think of it as an actual investment with a tangible worth.

Private school and higher education administrators who are jacking up tuition are probably on some level exploiting the fact we’re willing to spend more than we’d normally be comfortable with if we can be convinced it’s in our kids best interest.

Then one day we wake up and find we have a well-educated child, but their career is doomed before it can even start because of all the debt they took on to graduate from college. And that they had to take on all that debt because you couldn’t save any money for their college fund when they were growing up because you were forced to shell out $20,000 a year just to make sure your kid got into the only school nearby that would actually teach them to read.

We’re lucky to have a great, affordable private school option available to our oldest daughter as she starts pre-K next year. But the school’s only K-8 and we have no idea what we’ll do for high school. Beyond that, my husband is now convinced that we’re in an education bubble and that there’s no point worrying about saving obscene amounts of money for college, even if we had that kind of money to set aside. It’s just not worth it.

Still, who wants to be the parent that takes risks with their kids education just to send a message to entitled private school administrators that they’re charging too much?
Where does this end? America is supposed to be a place that values a good education as an egalitarian matter. It sure doesn’t look like that’s the case these days.

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