private school education ain't what it used to be. Yes, private schools are
still generally safer, more academically rigorous and claim with some
justification to provide better preparation for life in the Ivy League.
The difference is that, at least in boarding schools, life has gotten, well, more colorful.
Foxcroft is a small all-girl's boarding school in
"Boarding schools are perceived to be attended by blue-blooded New
England types," says Anthony J. DeFazio, publicist for the National
Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). "The reality is, since the
mid-1980s, international students and students of other ethnic backgrounds
have made big gains in boarding schools."
NAIS statistics for 1996, the latest available year, put non-White
enrollment at about 21% of the total boarding school populations. The
trend is clear, according to Heather Loerle, Associate Director for the
Association of Boarding
Schools, a NAIS affiliate. In the current economic situation, "If
anything grows a few percentage points, you start taking notice," says
Over the last ten years demographics at the 240-250 schools affilated with
Hoerle's group have shifted away from the progeny of "legacy families --
families who had been sending their children for years, generation after
generation." She attributes the trend to three prevailing factors: money,
birth rates and new blood.
Tuition has gone up significantly and even legacy families have been hit by
the economic slowdown, forcing them to think twice about enrolling a child
in boarding school. NAIS pegs average annual tuition for its 241 associated
boarding schools at $21,000 for the 1998-99 schoolyear.
Total enrollment is
listed at around 43,500 boarders. This compares with an average of only
$8,000 paid by 43,598 students boarding at 250 affiliated institutions 15
In addition many of the legacy families who can afford the tuition prefer a
day school or are simply not having as many children as they used to.
"Those very families are not producing at the rate we need to replenish
schools," says Hoerle, "so we're attracting a new market of families to our
Between 1981 and 1991 the number of foreign enrollees at these schools
rose from 9.6% of the student population to 11.5%. "International students
traditionally have not been given large amounts of financial aid," says
Hoerle. Only 5%, an all-time high, of foreign students got financial assistance
this year versus 29% for the student population as a whole. Financial aid
generally comes from school endowments, though sources like the
governments of Saudi Arabia and the People's Republic of China also pitch
To accommodate the new demographics, many boarding schools and
boarding school associations have modified their marketing programs and
curricula. Hoerle's program has enlisted focus group research to identify
boarding school stereotypes, and last summer began a media campaign to
counter these images. Her publicist DeFazio has addressed black readership
in Essence and Black Enterprise, and targeted other non-legacy
families through CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the
The Association of Boarding Schools has contracted pros to produce videos
and other marketing tools and has installed an 800-line for inquiries. Within
the next three months, Hoerle plans to hire an international expert to help
custom design marketplace pieces and its first international directory
specifically for prospective overseas students.
Although individual entities vary their approach, Hoerle estimates the
average marketing budget for boarding schools at 6% of total expenditures
versus the 12% spent on marketing by most corporations. Special efforts
have been made by some to appeal to specific international markets. For
instance, a few years ago Oregon Episcopal School translated all of its
applications, school catalogs and other material into Japanese.
English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) courses and orientation programs were
added four years ago at Foxcroft, a secondary all-girls boarding school
established in Middleburg, Virginia in 1914. According to Director Mary Lou
Leipheimer, 14 of the school's 137 students currently attend the program,
and foreign students now make up 20% of the student body versus 12% only
six years ago. Foxcroft's Asian population has grown 13% over the past six
years, and includes eight students from Japan, eight from Corea, two from
Taiwan and a Corean American.