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Are Small Private Schools a Dying Breed?

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While selective private schools and universities are thriving, private schools and institutions with more lenient admissions policies are struggling to keep up enrollment and lure new students, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., in an article for The Atlantic.

The struggles of less-selective private schools can be seen in Catholic schools, which have traditionally had a major presence in urban areas, but which have seen their enrollments slide over time. Catholic school enrollment in K-12 has been decreasing steadily since the 1960's, with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announcing earlier this year that it would be closing 44 of its 156 elementary schools. Overall, private school enrollment has dropped 13 percent from 2000 to 2010, notes Finn, who is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in the article.

Many, including Finn, attribute some of this change to the rise of charter schools, which provide a tuition-free alternative to regular public schools and which often incorporate aspects of education models traditionally embraced by private schools. Finn also looks to the rise of MOOCS—massively open online classes—as an alternative education model that is on the rise, leading to "big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education ... becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both."

In other countries, private schools have been melded into systems of public financing, says Finn, but that has been harder to accomplish in the U.S., he points out. Although vouchers are one way of linking private schools with the public school system, those policies have proved controversial and sometimes impossible depending on state laws. In some states, states' constitutions specifically bar public funds from flowing to private schools.

Without changing the delivery systems and cost structures of private school education, smaller private schools and parochial schools doomed to fail, Finn argues.

Do you agree with Finn's analysis? What do you think is contributing to the declining enrollment in private schools, and what could be done to turn that around?

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