By Saj Sri-Kumar
Increases in tuition costs at the school over the past two decades have outpaced both inflation and the rate of increase of family incomes.
Tuition increases are largely a result of added administrative costs including added costs that have been steadily growing as a result of the merger of Harvard and Westlake schools.
The rise in administrative costs is largely a result of the hiring of additional of personnel, not a rise in salaries.
The merger created a school with diminished efficiency, Chief Financial Officer Rob Levin said. The decreased efficiency, due to the need to hire more people, has gradually increased the school’s costs.
Levin said that the number of staff members required to run a larger school does not increase proportionately to the added number of students. As more students are added, more administrative positions are needed. For example, there was a headmaster at Harvard and one at Westlake, but today, the merged school has a head at each campus and a Head of School as well as a President for the entire school. These added positions have added to the school’s costs.
Many departments have had to be greatly expanded as a result of the merger, as well.
Before the merger, Harvard School had an excellent instrumental music department, Levin said. Families expected the same caliber of classes at both campuses, he said, requiring the school to hire additional music teachers, doubling the expenditure in that category.
In addition, the athletic program has been greatly expanded. Whereas most sports were coached by teachers who received no added salary, Levin said that the school has hired many dedicated coaches in order to make athletic teams more competitive. The school now employs close to 100 outside coaches.
Levin said that the decrease in efficiency is in many ways a good thing with its effect on students.
In the less efficient system that accompanies a larger school, there are many more opportunities for students to take advantage of, such as the aforementioned instrumental music program, but the large staff ensures personal attention for each individual student.
Inefficiency is represented by lower student-to-teacher ratios, Levin said.
“We now have 15 deans that work with students. That high a number allows students to have more personal interaction,” he said.
Levin said that other factors have caused the school to hire additional staff.
In the past 20 years, technology has improved extremely rapidly and the school has gone from a part-time computer manager who worked with a few computers to a full computer services staff that now has to manage “a computer for every teacher and one for roughly every two students,” Levin said.
Outside forces have also affected the school.
Due to increased concerns about safety, the school has enlarged the security staff from a single person to a full security team that has a much larger presence on campus.
In addition, the school has had to hire staff to follow stricter regulatory requirements and the increased prevalence of lawsuits.
The rising tuition costs that have resulted have the potential to hamper the ability for lower-income families to afford the school.
Tuition for the current school year is $29,200, an increase of 196 percent (83 percent when adjusted for inflation) over the tuition for the first post-merger school year, 1991-1992. This has forced more students to need financial aid.
As admission to the school is not need-blind and aid is available to only a certain percentage of students, the school may be forced to reject some qualified applicants due to their inability to pay.
“It’s a problem,” Levin said.
In response to the increased difficulty that families face paying the tuition, the Board of Trustees increased the quota of enrolled students that receive aid from 12 percent to 17 percent, which was phased in starting with admissions for students entering school in 2006.
A similar trend of tuition increasing faster than inflation and incomes has happened across the board in education, not just with private secondary schools but also in colleges and universities.
According to a report in The Economist, tuition at public colleges has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students in the past 40 years. In the same time period, private college tuition has increased by a factor of more than 13. However, household incomes have only increased by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years.
Tuition at other private high schools in the Los Angeles area has also increased at a similar rate to Harvard-Westlake’s.
As the school has undergone a huge expansion while most other schools have not,
Levin said that the school “[feels] good if our costs haven’t exceeded other schools.”
Levin attributed the ability of the school to avoid increases higher than those of other schools to a few different factors.
First, he credited Annual Giving. He said that families who are able to donate in addition to standard tuition regularly do so, allowing the school to defray some of its costs.
Second, Levin said that the school has followed unconventional but extremely successful fiscal policies that may not be feasible for most smaller schools.
He credited the school’s decision to self-insure on a range of fields, from health insurance benefits for faculty and staff to workers compensation insurance.
He explained that the school only purchases insurance when it is exceptionally well-priced or the school cannot afford the worst-case scenario. In most cases, the school acts as its own insurance company and disburses claims directly out of the school budget.
As a result, Levin said that the school has saved an estimated $10 million, mainly from avoiding the purchase of insurance in many cases.
Going forward, Levin said that he expects tuition to grow at a slower pace, although there were other factors that made him unable to guarantee that it would not grow as fast as it had in the past.
He said that a number of factors, such as the enlargement of the school and the increased technology costs, would no longer apply.
Levin said that the school is not planning on any further enlargement of the student body or the further installation of more computers on a large scale.
However, Levin said that the school would continue its effort to keep the student-to-faculty ratio low, which may necessitate higher costs in the future.