There's nothing new about the idea that America's schools are in crisis, but the latest twist doesn't involve kids packed liked sardines into classrooms, guns in backpacks, overpaid teachers or underperforming students. In fact, the latest news causing a tempest over schools isn't even a public school problem.
The predicament is that America's elite private schools are in trouble. They need new libraries. Or planetariums. Or fencing rooms. Or swimming pools. Luckily, they've found a solution: raising tuition. Right now, the cost of a private school education averages out to $21,695 per year. And, while that princely sum is roughly 44% of the annual income of the average American household, it's just over half the tuition charged by the country's most expensive private academy: New York's Riverdale Country School.
Recently, Riverdale announced plans to increase tuition by 4%, to $40,450 per year, making it the first private school in the country to cross the $40,000 barrier. In return, its students get to enjoy two libraries with a combined 44,000 books, a fitness center with professional trainer on staff, a 25-yard swimming pool, outdoor tennis courts, and a host of other facilities.
Impressive. Then again, Harvard University has all of those things and more, yet charges a comparatively cheap $33,696 per year.
In fact, Riverdale's price tag exceeds the basic tuition at seven of the eight Ivy League colleges and universities. Admittedly, that doesn't include all the fees and assorted add-ons, which push the full cost of some of these universities slightly ahead of the elite prep school. Then again, the Ivy League -- officially, at least -- prepares its students to support themselves, while Riverdale prepares its charges for ... well, the Ivy League.
Riverdale may lead the pack in the tuition game, but it's only slightly ahead of the competition. Across the country, many top schools charge more than $30,000 per year. In New York, the median cost of tuition for senior year at a private school is $35,475. Even the Blue Man Group, famous for its playful shows, is dead serious when it comes to charging parents: A year of kindergarten at the Blue School founded by its members costs a whopping $29,820.
Private schools have never been cheap, but tuition has soared by 79% in the past 10 years. And although many administrators have expressed dismay about this, prices continue to rise. Most experts agree that the jumps have to stop sometime, but with competition fierce for spots at the country's best colleges and universities -- and public schools facing a funding crisis of their own -- it's hard to imagine when tuitions are going to hit the ceiling.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.