I’ve been thinking a lot about education recently because I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of our children. Are we really going to live in a world where the rich continue to hoard their multi-generational fortunes while the rest just struggle to get by? Will the playing field continue to be so uneven that the middle class and poor must work twice as hard to get half as much?
Here are some things that have been swirling around in my head recently:
* College is either going to be prohibitively expensive in 20 years at its current rate of price increase ($100,000+/year for tuition) or it’s going to be 100% free because society has changed the way we view the need for a college education due to technology. What a cruel world if only the rich or super smart can afford college. Are the rest of us supposed to work 70+ hours a week as janitors in order to make $270,000+ a year? I’m banking on college being more accessible to all in the future.
* What’s the point of going to college? To try and get as prestigious a job as possible to make as much money as possible to raise kids that do the same thing? Since most people are unhappy with their jobs, the system seems broken. If your family is already well to do, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of purpose in pushing your kids to do things they don’t absolutely love to do. Isn’t it much better to just grow up to be a good person who does something useful for society instead?
* What if you go to Harvard and end up doing nothing special? Was all the studying, stress, time and tuition all a waste? At my first job, we rejected kids from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown and Penn all the time. If you didn’t have a consensus liking, you were out. My job as a financial analyst working in the Equities department was nothing special, unless you count photocopying 100 pages a day and getting coffee for my senior colleagues special. So imagine getting rejected from nothing special.
* What if you spend $300,000 on private grade school and then end up going to your state’s public university? Wouldn’t it have been better to just go to public grade school instead? I’ve done research on where several private schools’ seniors attended, and the local state university is consistently in the top three schools for matriculation.
After typing out these thoughts, I’ve realized that I’m overly focused on achieving an optimal return on investment (ROI) as a financial blogger. After all, that’s what financial people do. I want everybody’s finances to never become a burden, only an enabler.
Let’s talk about the softer side of why going to private grade school might just be the better option than going to public grade school. I think the argument to attend private grade school is easier to make than attending private university.
Why Private Grade School Is Worth The Expense
“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren.
I strongly believe nurture is the biggest determinant of who we become as adults. We can argue whether nurture plays a 51% role or a 90% role compared to nature. But it’s clear there’s a strong correlation between how we raise our children and how good of a citizen our children turn out to be.
Yes, we should look closely at the parents of bullies, rapists, terrorists and killers. Yes, we should provide guidance to the parents of the three-year-old who fell into Harambe’s enclosure. Yes, we should speak to parents who raise entitled brats.
If any one of us gets a traffic violation, we’ve got to spent eight hours going to online traffic school to atone for our sins unless we want black marks on our driving record and higher insurance premiums for the next couple of years. An immediate fine is also a guarantee. Why shouldn’t parents go through mandatory educational training as well if their kids do bad things before they become adults?
Given the importance of nurturing our kids, it’s logical to conclude getting the best grade school education possible before adulthood is a good idea. We’ve only got one shot at raising our kids to be outstanding citizens. After they turn 18, whether they go to public college, private college, community college, or no college is up to them because we’ve already provided them the best education possible to decide on their own.
It may be subjective whether a private grade school or a public grade school creates better adults. My own experience attending international private schools overseas and public high school in McLean, Virginia provides for some inconclusive evidence, i.e. both experiences were great. As a result, I decided to do some first hand research at Punahou, one of the best private grade schools on Oahu. Punahou is the alma mater to President Obama, my aunt and a niece.
A Look Inside Punahou
While it regularly costs $40,000+ in tuition plus another $20,000 in room and board and fees at many private universities, Punahou is a relative bargain at $19,950 for grades K – 8 and $22,300 for grades 9 – 12. If we divide the tuition by the nine months they are in school, we get $2,216 per month for K – 8 and $2,477 per month for 9-12.
Given students are in school from 8am – 3pm on average a day, they are in school for roughly 140 – 154 hours a month. That comes out to $14.4 – $15.8 / hour for grades K – 8 and $16.10 – $17.70 / hour for grades 9 – 12. That’s pretty cheap given it costs $50 – $100 / hour to pay a licensed electrician or plumber to fix anything in your house. I used to charge $70 / hour for a private tennis lesson, and currently charge much more for private consultation. Meanwhile, some teenage babysitters regularly earn $15 – $20 / hour.
If you compare the monthly or hourly cost of private grade school to day care cost, the cost is right in line as well. But while you’re in grade school, you should theoretically be learning much more in a class room than from your babysitter or day care professional. Therefore, paying $19,950 – $22,300 to attend private grade school seems that much more worth it.
Teachers Who Care
Every teacher cares about their students, just to different degrees. At Punahou, it seems like the teachers not only really care about their students, they also feel empowered because their students respect them. Many of the teachers are alumni who uphold the traditions of the school. Further, if you know your parents are paying ~$20,000 a year in tuition, there is this implicit assumption that you better try and learn as much as possible and make the best use of your time, lest you want to waste your parents’ money.
My wife and I were sitting at a library table resting from our tour of the campus when an English teacher by the name of Paul Hamamoto came up to us and asked if he could provide any guidance. He told us how the library was actually called the learning center because the school wants to share new career paths the students may not otherwise consider.
We loved hearing such out-of-the-box thinking because the world changes quickly. To hammer home the same old routine of going to college to become a lawyer doesn’t do kids justice. I never would have imagined living my current lifestyle when I was in school.
Paul taking the time to sit down with us was a great demonstration of care. It wasn’t just Paul who came up to us either. A number of teachers and administrators asked whether they could help us out and answer any questions we had about the school. More caring teachers should go a long way to raise better people.
Life is easier with a stronger network. We like to take care of people with similar backgrounds, or at least give them a chance to compete. Punahou is one of the largest private schools on Oahu with roughly 4,000 students from K – 12. Each year graduates roughly 400 students who attend universities all over the U.S. and the world. Therefore, Punahou should have an advantage over smaller private schools.
The most famous alumnus is President Barrack Obama. But also on the list of alumni are Steve Case (founder of AOL), Sun Yat-sen (politician), Kelly Preston (actress) and many more. The more recognized a school is and its list of alumni, perhaps the easier it is to get a job, raise capital for a business, or build your clientele.
Larger Academic Curriculum
The very essence of school is to learn something new that will guide students towards a more fulfilling life. Private schools tend to have a wider array of classes because they have more flexibility and funding. If your kid wants to learn more about Ruby On Rails, laser cutting, glass blowing, or maybe even online media, there may be a deeper opportunity for your child to learn something a public school student may not.
I love art and guitar. But there weren’t many options for me to go deep into either field during grade school. I can always try and catch up now as an adult, but it’s much easier to learn as a kid.
A Safer Environment
My biggest worry as a parent is that my kid will get bullied, beat up, made fun of, killed, or fall into a bad crowd. I got into fights several times when I was in public high school because I fought back against bullies. I also occasionally hung out with kids who smoked, drank, did drugs, shoplifted and rode motorbikes illegally. As a result, I paid for my association and behavior with suspensions, community service, and more. OMG, I was a parent’s worst nightmare! Now looking back, I wonder how I was able to get through it all.
Parents who are willing to fork out $20,000+ in tuition must either care a lot about education or are simply rich enough to pay. They could be the most checked out parents ever, but for 8 hours a day, their kids are getting exposed to faculty who do care a great deal. Hopefully with more caring or wealthier parents, there will be less bad apples in the classroom.
If your classmates are poor, then they’re either attending on a merit scholarship or they realize the massive sacrifice their parents are making to send them to private school. As a result, both types of classmates are probably normal if not outstanding students. Of course there will be the occassional spoiled rich kid who doesn’t give a damn about anybody. But hopefully they are few and far between.
Private Or Public Grade School?
If you can’t afford private grade school, don’t worry! The public school system is good enough and regularly sends kids to some of the best universities around the country. Just check where your local public high school sent their graduates to see for yourself. I went to a public high school, public college, and public business school and am a big fan of the public school system. It’s good to get exposed to kids from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s good to not have your hand held every step of the way. You can always take accelerated courses if you want a challenge.
My best friend from McLean High School got into Cooper Union and now works for a large non-profit. My other friend went to Virginia Tech and is a cybersecurity engineer at a huge tech firm. Another friend also went to Virginia Tech and is CEO of his own cloud storage company. My other friend went to Georgetown and is now a radiologist who asks me to send him all my MRIs so he can provide his free opinion. Our valedictorian went to Princeton and after spending time at Teach for America, is now a programmer. Our salutatorian went to The College of William & Mary like me, and is now a cardiologist. I finished up a 13-year career in banking and decided to blog full-time. I think we all turned out just fine!
If you send your kids to public school, I recommend being more involved as a parent to make sure they’re hanging out with a good crowd. Instill in your children a work ethic that gives them the most opportunity to succeed, regardless of their level of intelligence. As long as you’re present in your child’s development, I’m confident your child will turn out just fine. Besides, it’s hard to beat free tuition. You can use the money you would have spent on private school tuition on extra lessons after school instead.
If you can afford private grade school, you should strongly consider sending your kid for all the reasons I’ve stated above. Everybody has a different definition of what “afford” means. A good minimum level of household income to afford private grade school is probably ~5X private school tuition e.g. $20,000 tuition, $100,000 household income. But again, everybody’s expenses are different, so it’s hard to say. Let’s hope there are enough grants to go around to those families on the edge.
I had a wonderful time attending Canadian Academy in Japan, Taipei American School in Taiwan, and the International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from K – 8. The diversity of students was tremendous. I didn’t feel the quality of education drop off at all when I transitioned to public high school. There was plenty of room to grow because as a kid, I still had plenty to learn.
A quality education is one of the best gifts a parent could ever give. Why not pay up for a broader curriculum with dedicated teachers and a nice campus if you can afford to. Whether they go to Harvard or State U doesn’t matter so long as they turn out to be good people.
Preparing For A Move
I’m strongly considering moving back to Oahu to be closer to my parents. I want to be there for them in case they need anything (rides, food, handy work, tech help, gardening, companionship, etc). Even if I have a kid in 2017, I still have to wait until 2023 to apply for kindergarten. But hey, at least I’m doing research today so I’ll be ready when the time comes.
Here are some steps I’ll be taking over the next five years to prepare for the option of sending my kid to private grade school:
* Do research on pre-schools.
* Do research on what type of testing private schools conduct on kids 5 and up.
* Do research on how to do well for the parental interview.
* Become a USPTA certified tennis instructor to potentially add value as an assistant tennis coach.
* Create an online media curriculum that I could teach at one of the private schools to add value.
* Create a personal finance curriculum to educate high school seniors about how to properly manage their money before becoming adults.
* Speak to alumni and parents of the private grade schools I’m considering.
* Build relationships with teachers, faculty and parents of the private grade schools I’m considering.
* Create a separate fund specifically for grade school tuition.
* Calculate all my pro forma expenses over the next 5+ years using a financial calculator to make sure I’m not putting my retirement cash flow at risk with this new potential expense. Here are some Income and Spending inputs I created to see what would happen to my retirement cashflow if I started paying $25,000 a year in private school tuition in 2023 for 12 years.
Looks like I’ve got plenty to do! And even after doing so much, there’s a high chance my kid(s) won’t be able to get in. But even if that’s the case, I think the process will be insightful. At the very least, I’ll have a lot more material to write about to help other parents who are considering.
I’m curious to know from parents of private school kids how you prepared for getting your kids into private school and whether it was worth it or not? I already know attending public school is worth it, so any insights about private grade school would be extremely helpful. What are the downsides?
Any Punahou or ‘Iolani alumni out there? I’d love to hear some tips on how to get in and how to thrive.