Private schools see dip in enrollment but step up financial aid to assist families

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The slowdown on the economy has many struggling to make ends meet and for some families, that means sacrificing the education plans they have for children.

During the 2019-2020 school year roughly 15 percent of school-age students attended private schools in Hawaii. This year, that number will likely go down due to the pandemic as families deal with the financial fall-out of COVID-19.

“COVID has thrown a big wrench into everyone’s situation,” said Damien Memorial’s Head of School Kyle Atabay, Ph.D.

More than 200,000 people are unemployed statewide. When families struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads, shelling out thousands for private school tuition simply isn’t possible.

Damien Memorial’s enrollment has dipped slightly from 690 last year. They currently have 647 enrolled, but that number could change since enrollment is still open.

“Our enrollment numbers, although down, are not as low as we thought, as we were originally preparing for,” Atabay said.

Damien’s tuition for the 2019-2020 school year was $12,425 for intermediate and $16,101 for high school. According to Hawaii Private School Review, roughly 60% of Damien students were receiving financial aid last year — a number surely to increase even though Damien is far from the most expensive private school in Honolulu.

According to the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools Private School Tuition Report for 2019-2020 which studied 93 private schools in the state, the average tuition cost in Honolulu was $15,096. Statewide, the average tuition cost was $10,159, excluding Kamehameha Schools.

Damien Memorial isn’t the only school feeling the pinch.

In a letter to parents dated June 15, 2020, MidPacific Institute President Paul Turnbull, Ph.D wrote:
“During this time of constant change, we know that Mid-Pacific is not immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why we have been diligently working alongside other schools and local businesses to adjust to the reality that our middle and high school enrollment will be slightly smaller in the coming years.”

To assist families in need, many private schools are offering more financial aid.

Punahou School, one of the largest private schools in the state and one of the most expensive with tuition at $26,000 last year, is dramatically increasing funds available to families according to Punahou School President Mike Latham, Ph.D.

“In a normal year, Punahou has been allocating about $8 million in support of financial aid, and about 20 percent of our students receive aid. This year we have budgeted up to a 50 percent increase in financial aid. So we’ve actually budgeted out to $12 million in additional financial aid.”

Latham said they have seen a drastic uptick in the number of families seeking aid, many of whom have never needed it before.

“We make a commitment to Punahou families. I think they’ve made a commitment to the school and they’ve entrusted their children to us and we really believe that part of our commitment to our families and our broader sense in our community is that we want to make Punahou as affordable as we can,” Latham said.

Enrollment at Punahou averages 3750 students each year. Latham said their current enrollment is at 3746 and they actually expect to surpass their average this year.

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