Why Private Schools Are Dying Out

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, May 20, 2013

Private education as we have known it is on its way out, at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. At the very least, it's headed for dramatic shrinkage, save for a handful of places and circumstances, to be replaced by a very different set of institutional, governance, financing, and education-delivery mechanisms.

Consider today's realities. Private K-12 enrollments are shrinking -- by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, announced in January that 44 of its 156 elementary will cease operations next month. (A few later won reprieves.) In addition, many independent schools (day schools and especially boarding schools) are having trouble filling their seats -- at least, filling them with their customary clientele of tuition-paying American students. Traditional nonprofit private colleges are also challenged to fill their classroom seats and dorms, to which they're responding by heavily discounting their tuitions and fees for more and more students.

Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is five percent nationally and north of twenty percent in 25 major cities. "Massive open online courses" (MOOCs) are booming, too, and online degree and certificate options proliferating. Public-sector college and university enrollments remain strong and now educate three students out of four. The "proprietary" (i.e. for-profit) sector of postsecondary education is doing okay, despite its tortured relationship with federal financial aid.

What's really happening here are big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education -- at both levels -- becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both, and as more viable options for students and families present themselves.

Read more »