Before You Answer the Door (Part IV)

This month’s column will explore other options available to parishes to respond to needs for tuition assistance.

Scholarships, tuition reduction plans, tuition discounts, and in-parish tuition rates are all forms of financial assistance. Realizing that not every family can afford to pay the full cost of educating their children in a Catholic school, parishes commonly utilize a variety of methods to assist families with the financial burden of parochial tuition.

Some parishes have implemented a “fair ability” or “fair share” tuition program. In its simplest form, the parochial school administrator presents the actual per pupil cost to the parents and asks them to pay as much of the cost as reasonably possible given their family income. Some parishes use that method successfully, but the success is dependent on the good will of the parents. As last month’s column demonstrated, not all parents take a responsible position regarding the amount of tuition they can afford to pay. School administrators may find that, upon implementing a fair ability program, that they must choose between maintaining a fair system or a simple system, but that it is difficult to design a fair, simple system.

Because not all families prioritize tuition obligations equally, some parishes institute parameters in conjunction with a fair ability program. For example, the program may have a minimum amount that all parents must pay such as $100 per month per child enrolled. Other fair ability programs expand the minimums by setting minimum tuition amounts by level of family income. For example, the minimum may be $100 per month for a family with total a total income level of $20,000 annually or less, but $500 per month for an annual income of $50,000, etc.

School administrators may find that basing the tuition minimums on gross income alone may not be fair to all families. If the goal is “fair ability,” the administrator may develop a schedule of minimum tuition payments based on levels of income, but then have additional columns in the schedule for a second, third and fourth child enrolled in the school. So instead of a minimum of $100 per month per child at the lowest income level, the schedule would list the amount for two children at, say, $150 per month, three at $175 per month, etc.

Over time, administrators may find that the number of children enrolled in school is not the only factor affecting parents’ ability to pay tuition. They would like to factor in families who face large medical expenses, or those who must pay for their own health care insurance, or those who have other children in high school or college. The administrator begins instituting such terms as “adjusted family income,” or the “modified-ability-to-pay indicator.”

Some parishes have decided that they do not possess the skills necessary to maintain a fair ability program so they outsource the process. There are firms that specialize in what they term “grant and aid assessment.” Parents submit their financial information to the firm. The firm analyzes the information and, based on the amount of total financial aid available to the school, apportions the financial assistance to the families based on preset criteria. The advantages to the school are that it saves the school personnel time and it removes any subjective or political aspects of the process. The advantages to the parents are that it protects the confidentiality of their financial information and assures them that they are being treated objectively. The disadvantage, of course, is that the firm charges fees for their services. Usually, the school passes the cost of the services to the parents by way of an application fee.

MR. LENELL, C.P.A., Ph.D., is the director for financial and administrative services for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill. Dr. Lenell’s book Income Taxes for Priests Only is published by “Fathers Guide.” He lectures and conducts workshops and does consulting to several dioceses on priests’ taxes, compensation, and retirement planning. Write to Dr. Lenell, c/o The Priest magazine with questions, or e-mail him at