There are no official statistics available on Houston private school applications. However, talk to a few admissions directors and it you will hear voices of concern. A casual survey will reveal that most feel applications across private schools in Houston were down about 10% last year. The big unanswered question is why. Let’s explore a few of the possible causes for a dramatic drop in private school applications last year.
Hurricane Harvey: It goes without saying that the hurricane Harvey impact on Houston was huge. It is estimated Harvey caused $125 billion in damage to east Texas. By some estimates, 204,000 homes were damaged by hurricane Harvey and 1 million vehicles were destroyed. Following this devastation, many families who may have considered private school may have just removed themselves from the application pool. Private schools may simply have been considered a luxury item for families faced with paying the cost to rebuild following hurricane Harvey.
Private School is No Longer Affordable for Middle Class Families: More has been reported recently on the significant rise in the cost of college/university education, but private/independent schools have also seen significant increases in tuition over the years. While private school remains affordable for high income families, it may simply not be affordable to middle class families. This has driven a drop in the percentage of middle class families choosing private education for their children. Relative the cost as a percentage of income, many families may simply feel private school does not deliver a value commensurate to the cost. Interestingly, lower income families continue to attend private schools at the same rate as in prior years, presumably due to tuition assistance programs. Those who don’t qualify for tuition assistance are left looking for a lower cost source of quality education.
Families Have a Lot More Choices: Not too long ago there were really only two choices for the education of school age children: private or public school. Now there are many flavors of education beyond and between private and public schools. It is now reported there are 2.3 million students in home-school. It’s more realistic than ever for families to decide to keep their kids home for school. University model schools, which is a hybrid private/home school model on the rise. The last few decades have also seen rapid growth in online school and charter school. With so many choices now available to parents and students, it has become less and less likely that families would choose private school for their kids.
In conclusion, there is no definitive answer yet as to whether the 10% drop last year in private school applications was a short-term challenge or the new normal. If hurricane Harvey was the primary driver for the drop in applications, we should see application rates return to normal in the next six months. If application rates remain the same for the next year, the private school industry in Houston will be forced to prepare for a future with fewer candidate. Only time will tell which way things will go.