Affordability and Development
The Finance Committee’s charge was to explore expenses and revenues to determine the best way to mitigate the steady tuition increases that have over the decades put Commonwealth’s tuition beyond the reach of a growing percentage of families. While the Committee undertook such considerations, the focus shifted to access and long-term sustainability.
The Committee undertook in-depth reviews of Commonwealth’s financial records of the past decade and beyond, looking at income and expense trends in a variety of categories and examining in detail the distribution and outcomes of the school’s financial aid program. Conversations with key administrators, review of benchmark studies, and surveys of other schools, with close focus on staffing and structure of development offices gave the Committee a fuller sense of the relative efficiency, effectiveness, and potential of Commonwealth’s operations.
The Committee reported that it found no significant inefficiencies in Commonwealth’s budget and that financial aid was distributed to families with a range of incomes and backgrounds. There were questions about whether we have been attracting as many students from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds as we might. Catherine Brewster, who directs the Entering Commonwealth program for such students, has made clear that the human and financial resources of the school limit the number we can effectively serve to 3-5 new students in any given class.
The Committee did find that the relationship between the per-student costs incurred by the school—removing financial aid from the calculation—and tuition has changed markedly in the past two years, as the full-pay subsidy has grown by 10.7% and 4.2% in the past two years. The Committee recognized that the FY14 increase may be due to the enrollment deficit, but that the trend was nonetheless notable and of concern.
The Committee also determined that Commonwealth’s Development Office was far leaner than those at peer schools. They felt that staffing was a factor that limited what the office could raise. The addition of an Associate would free up others for the outreach and cultivation necessary for securing of major gifts and running a campaign.
The Committee also heard from faculty and staff about the need to put some of our diversity and support programs on firmer financial footing by raising targeted funds— endowed or spendable—to support the Homework Project, Entering Commonwealth, and the Chatfield Cultural Scholarships for student travel and projects. There is an interest in our broader community in these programs that make them an attractive target for donations. As these endeavors are now substantially funded through operating revenues, dedicated funding would free up resources for operations.
The Committee also felt that the school should work to secure the resources that would make a family’s ability to pay a smaller factor in admissions. Commonwealth’s current commitment to financial aid—20% of gross tuition revenue (GTR) to financial aid for non-faculty children, and up to 3.5% of GTR in tuition remission for children of faculty—is among the strongest of area day schools. Commonwealth may consider as part of a campaign the raising of endowment or spendable funds to increase the percentage of GTR that goes to aid by some specific percentage.
The Committee also discussed possible new revenue streams for the school, such as building rental and summer programs. This past summer the school rented part of the building to the Kodaly Music Institute for three weeks from late June to mid-July and it ran a small (three students) two-week summer math program for incoming students over two weeks, mornings only, in July. The Kodaly Institute and another summer camp have already expressed interest in rental for summer 2014, and there is interest in expanding our own summer program.
The Committee recommends that Commonwealth:
- Plan and carry out a capital campaign to fund the initiatives that emerge from this plan, weighing all of the proposals, determining a realistic overall goal, and setting priorities.
- Hire a new Development Associate. This person would originally be brought on to help prepare and run a Capital Campaign (and so initially be funded out of the Campaign), and would remain afterwards to help the office increase the breadth and reach of its fundraising, with particular attention to the Annual Fund.
- Work toward sustained and substantial increase in the Annual Fund.
- Develop and adopt, starting in FY15, a benchmark to guide future tuition increases. The benchmark would stipulate what categories of expenses go into the calculation of per-student cost of education, and then establish guidelines for the relationship between that cost and full tuition, remaining sensitive to the various pressures of Commonwealth’s competitive market.
- Expand our capacity to meet the demonstrated need of qualified applicants as well as raising targeted funds to support ongoing diversity and support programs. ($1.25 million of endowment is needed to increase Financial Aid 1% of GTR, funding Entering Commonwealth and Homework Project would require endowment or multi-year major gifts that could provide up to $60,000 annually, and Chatfield Cultural Scholarships would require endowment or gifts that could generate $25,000 per year.) Part of this effort should include continued outreach to promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the goal of having such students make up ten percent of the student body.
- Continue to explore options for new income streams (e.g. building rental, summer programs).
The Committee should begin modeling a number of possible scenarios for a campaign. Given the uncertainty about facilities, a model for a campaign with a major ($6 million) and lesser ($3-5 million) fund for facilities might be developed.
The school has hired a new Development and Communications Assistant.
The school should carry forward conversations with the various parties to explore the feasibility and benefit of increased rental and summer programs.