Enrollment the bottom line at private academies in valley
Liberty Christian Academy started the school year with 14 kindergarten through seventh-grade students.
Two families pulled their children out of the private school at 448 South Camp Road at the end of first semester. Seven children are all who are left.
The $2,100 tuition per student isn’t enough to cover the cost of buying materials and paying the school’s three teachers, even though they’re paid at the poverty level, said Eric Turner, Liberty Christian Academy administrator. The school is running in the red.
“It’s to the point where it looks like next year we will not be open,” Turner said.
Not every private school in the Grand Valley is hurting enough to consider shutting its doors. But many are losing students, even if just a few at a time. Private school enrollment within School District 51 boundaries declined 19 percent year-over-year to 1,059 students in fall 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Education, and has fallen more than 22 percent since 2007, which many private school administrators say was the last boom year for enrollment.
Bookcliff Christian School Administrator Michael Shockley said losing nine students, as he did this year, may not sound like much. But it was a nearly 10 percent enrollment drop year-over-year. The school does not plan to raise tuition this fall, but Shockley said previous enrollment declines forced the school at 2702 Patterson Road to increase tuition from $265 a month to $300 a month this school year.
“The total fees just weren’t enough to support the program,” Shockley said.
Life Academy at 636 29 Road plans to increase tuition by $400 next year. Intermountain Adventist Academy at 1704 N. Eighth St. and Christian Community Schools at 615 Interstate 70 Business Loop in Clifton both increased tuition slightly this year. But those schools said the increases were less about making up for lower enrollment and more about inflated utility and textbook costs.
Pear Park Baptist School at 3102 E Road has the same number of students as last year, 35, but will raise tuition by $100 as part of a multiyear effort to gradually increase it to a level that better matches the school’s expenses, said Pear Park Baptist Church Pastor Randy David.
At Intermountain Adventist Academy, enrollment dropped slightly, and it remained flat at Life Academy.
At Christian Community Schools, enrollment increased, according to Cheryl DuCray, director of the middle and high school programs.
“We are almost triple in the high school and double in the middle school, and kindergarten is full,” DuCray said.
While Shockley and Turner blame the economy for forcing students to move out of the area or choose tuition-free education options, DuCray said tuition is one of the last things parents ask her about.
“A lot of parents have decided their kid’s education is that important and they make adjustments,” she said.
The reason for Mesa County’s overall decrease in private school enrollment isn’t all about money. Turner said some students left the school because its curriculum involves students studying on their own in cubicles and having a teacher check their progress.
“If they need a teacher to hover over them and prompt them continuously, this system doesn’t work well for them,” Turner said.
The system does work well in home-schooling situations, though, and Turner said many of his remaining students plan to use the system at home if the school closes.
A drop in enrollment also may have something to do with a drop in the number of children a single family can bring to a school, said Intermountain Adventist Academy Principal Ed Harlan.
“People today are not having as many children as they did a few years ago, at least in our constituency,” he said. “Families used to have four or five kids. Now they have one or two.”
Becky West, who runs the office at Life Academy and used to teach there, said enrollment at the school dipped from more than 100 students a few years ago to 65 this year. But there is reason to believe things may turn around this fall. Registration for 2011–12 began recently at Life Academy, and West said plenty of current students are re-enrolling and a few new students are on the way.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good year,” she said.