At Private Schools, Another Way to Say ‘Financial Aid’

Paul Sullivan:

SHANNON LUBIANO never dreamed she could send her children to the Duke School, an independent elementary school in Durham, N.C., where the tuition is $15,000 for prekindergarten, rising to nearly $18,000 for eighth grade.
But then a friend told her about the school’s indexed tuition plan — essentially a pay-what-you-can model for a private education — and that made all the difference for her.
“When I tell other people about it, they are shocked,” said Ms. Lubiano, whose husband, a chef, owns a restaurant in town. “They had looked at the Duke School in the past and got run off by the cost.”
Duke is part of a small group of independent schools, mostly in the Southeast and West, that have adopted indexed tuition as both a financial aid strategy and a way to attract people who would not otherwise apply to private school.
“We got to indexed tuition as a philosophical journey,” said Dave Michelman, head of school at Duke. “We’re committed to socioeconomic diversity. If you’re committed to that it seems a little off-putting to say if you come here we’ll give you charity. That’s what financial aid sounds like.”