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CURRENT ISSUE:  December 14, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishop Cordileone among Catholic signers of Manhattan Declaration
Honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe
Replica of Pieta on loan to Cathedral
Religious leaders weigh in on climate change at U.N. conference
Oakland’s St. Elizabeth High
adopts flexible tuition plan

St. Elizabeth High School in Oakland has adopted a flexible tuition plan for the 2010-2011 school year in an effort to help make a Catholic high school education an affordable option for urban families.

The plan will allow families to pay tuition on a sliding scale from $2,500 to $10,700, depending on their financial circumstances. This school year tuition is $9,500.

Dominican Sister Mary Liam Brock, principal, is determined to “keep the school accessible” to families who have had their child in Catholic elementary schools and wish to continue their Catholic education. She also hopes the new tuition plan will attract other families who want a Catholic school education for their teenagers.

The new plan is based on a payment model already in place in which the school and families arrive at a negotiated tuition rate based on the family’s ability to pay. What is new is that the school is now making these negotiated tuitions public, Sister Brock told The Voice.

To determine eligibility for the program, applicants must fill out two confidential application forms, one from the Private School Aid Service (PSAS) and a supplemental form from the high school, to determine financial need. A $21 check or money order made out to PSAS must be turned in with that application.

Families must meet with school officials to discuss their applications and provide a copy of their 2008 or 2009 federal income tax form with all appropriate schedules as well as copies of their 2008-2009 W-2’s and 1099s.

Families new to St. Elizabeth High must submit their financial assistance applications by Feb. 3. The submission deadline for returning families is Feb. 26.

A complex formula will be used to determine the exact tuition and will consider several factors that affect a family’s ability to pay, including the amount of financial assistance the family will receive from academic merit scholarships, family discounts and FACE (Family Aid-Catholic Education) grants.

Sister Brock said the tuition determinations will be set by the time the school’s acceptance letters are sent out in March. That will allow families to know immediately what it will cost for them to send their students to the school, which is within walking distance of the Fruitvale BART station.

She said several families have been forced by financial limitations to withdraw their students from the school in recent months and more families are requesting financial help. She said many families can’t afford the tuition even with financial aid.

The city’s two other Catholic high schools have also experienced an increase in requests for help. Holy Names Sister Sally Slyngstad, principal at Holy Names High School, said school officials have been fielding phone calls and questions mid-year from parents who have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. While the campus does not have a flexible tuition plan, it does award “significant financial aid.”

Sister Slyngstad said that 56 percent of students at the school, where tuition this year is $11,350 with a $650 registration fee, receive some financial assistance once they have been evaluated by PSAS. “We try to meet some of the need, but it far outweighs the funds available,” she told The Voice.

Stephen Depetris, director of finances at Bishop O’Dowd High School, said that school spends almost 10 percent of its budget on financial aid. “It is not easy,” he said. “We worry every year. We never have enough money.”

The school, which charges $13,300 in tuition, has made an effort to increase financial aid. Although it does not have a flexible tuition plan, the school tries to help families in “a different way,” Depetris said.

Last year the school provided $1.3 million in financial help while this year the amount of aid grew to $1.9 million. “We are committed to providing Catholic education,” he said, noting that the school could have lost up to 30 families this year if it had not offered to help those who were a paycheck away from withdrawing their students from the school.

If a student wants to leave the school for personal reasons that is their choice, Depetris said, “but we don’t want it to be an economically-based decision.”

Sister Brock hopes the flexible tuition plan will bring more students to St. Elizabeth High¸ which has a current enrollment of 198 students. This is “not good,” she admitted, for a school with a capacity for 300 to 320 students.

She wants to replace all the graduating seniors and add another 25 students for 2010. “Then we will take it from there.”

The administration and school trustees will meet next month to consider future funding for the school, which may include a development campaign as well as new approaches to marketing and publicity.

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