University School of Jackson

Headnotes: Tuition Truths

Tuition Truths

I will admit I enjoyed reading the responses from our recent surveys, as it felt great to read parents rave about our committed and caring faculty, the school's response to Covid-19, and the improvements being made to the campus and the USJ experience. And while I don't particularly enjoy pain, I am always open to improvement personally and professionally, and I know that I, in my fiftieth year, and USJ, in its fifty-first, remain works in progress. Thus the critical comments were welcomed as well. One common concern raised about our school was the price tag.

 

First, allow me to acknowledge I fully appreciate the sacrifices our families make in spending to provide our children access to the best teachers, resources, and facilities in West Tennessee. We believe this is a worthy investment that pays dividends in the short and long term, but I am well aware dollars do not come easily for us, and we are all faced with the economic necessity of investing them wisely.

 

We often do not feel comfortable talking about financial matters, but information can be helpful, so allow me to share frankly. Conversations concerning the cost of independent school tuition in West Tennessee tend to fall into binary categories… One, what can we do to keep the price down? And where do my tuition dollars go? Or two, How are we at USJ able to provide what we do at less than half the cost of comparable schools in Memphis or Nashville? I want to answer those questions by sharing a bit about our budget and financial structure while also addressing some misconceptions about where precisely these dollars are and are not spent.

 

As we have communicated before, we depend on tuition dollars to operate daily. We do not currently have a sizable endowment nor investments from which to contribute materially to our general budgeted expenses. Your tuition dollars provide, on average, 90% of the cost of educating your child at USJ. We depend on other revenue sources, such as generous donations to the Fund for Excellence and our parent support groups' work to help bridge the 10% gap where tuition dollars fall short.

 

Our budget is developed in the spring and summer by the school administration based on projected revenue from student contracts and planned expenditures. It is approved by the Board of Trustees at the beginning of the school year. Our enrollment of just over 1000 students, compared to a national median of 650, places us on the large end of the spectrum in the independent school world. Our current year's budget, which totals just over $11.3 million, plans for all of our operational expenses for the year. The majority (about 70%) pays our excellent faculty and staff's salaries and benefits. Although we live in a growingly technological world, we rely, thankfully, on human interaction, and this is exactly where most of our dollars need to be allocated. The remaining 30% or so covers expenses such as academic costs, utilities, custodial services, administrative expenses, athletic costs, maintenance and groundskeeping, technology, and other miscellaneous expenses of holding school.

 

All of our capital campaign construction projects have been funded through unrestricted and designated gifts from parents and supporters. For example, no funds received from student tuition have been allocated to security gates, playgrounds, or football turf. While providing excellent facilities is vital to our school’s mission and the USJ experience, we have intentionally raised separate dollars for these projects. Fundraising allows our tuition to remain designated towards our primary goal of providing an outstanding education at an affordable price to our parents and teachers (who also pay 100% tuition).

 

Also, we do not offer athletic or academic scholarships to USJ. All assistance provided is need-based remission determined by a third-party institution, which uses verified financial documentation to determine such need.

 

I feel blessed to have always called Jackson home for many reasons. We are fortunate to live in West Tennessee, where a dollar goes farther than in most places, including Memphis and Nashville, where an independent high school education starts at $22K a year. It means much to me that so many of our families sacrifice greatly to benefit from USJ, and we as a school must be good stewards of these resources and allocate them wisely and efficiently. Know that we are committed to doing just that to provide the best education and experience possible while staying affordable for our families and being the best teaching school in West Tennessee. Thank you for the privilege of partnering with you in growing our children.

 

Don Roe

Head of School   

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