Tuitions point up fallacy of classless society

Thanks to a story in The New York Times, we learn that median tuition at the 61 elite private schools in New York City has hit $36,970 a year for 12th-graders. A new school in the Chelsea neighborhood plans to charge $39,750 for a year of nursery school.

Seriously? The tuition at Harvard this year was $36,305. Hard as it is to believe, some parents will be relieved when their kids get accepted into Ivy League universities because, at last, they can start saving some money. Of course, if you’re paying $39,000 and change annually for grade school and high school tuition, it’s inevitable that your kids will get into the university of their choice.

But tuition is only part of the cost at these schools. Just like most public and parochial schools, they are constantly holding fundraisers, the difference being that if you don’t contribute heftily, Junior may find himself tossed into the public school system next year, sitting next to the children of general practitioners, public defenders, plumbers, electricians, waitresses, reporters or, heaven forfend, members of your own household staff.

The good news is that these exclusive schools don’t let in our kind. If you weren’t rich enough to get a couple million dollars in a taxpayer-paid bailout bonus, there is no way your kids are going to get into one of these schools. Which is OK with me, because face it, exclusive private schools rarely produce any first-round draft picks in the big money sports. While many team owners have graduated from exclusive schools, almost none of the players have.

You might guess that with these kinds of stratospheric prices, fewer parents are applying to get their kids into such schools in these tough times. Ah, but you would guess wrong. The demand for exclusive private schools is up -- way up -- which is sure to drive the price of tuition even higher. Tuition of $40,000 a year to teach your third-grader multiplication is right around the corner.

Even with that kind of money, there is no guarantee Junior will get in. What if he suffers from NOCD (Not Our Class, Dear)? But wait -- consulting services can advise parents on how to get their overprivileged progeny into these schools. That’s right, many bailed-out brokers and bankers will happily spend $20,000 of formerly public money on consultants to help get their little heirs and heiresses into the “right” schools. The fee for consulting will probably rise, too, because of the demand. Even so, the chances of getting Junior in without having some kind of legacy at the school are slim or none.

So what do the students get out of all this that they won’t get from New York’s fine public schools? Well, at a public school they might not be able to take Zen Dance, a class offered at one of the private schools. Their Mandarin teachers may not be as good as the ones at the private school’s pre-K. You know, the necessities. They may suffer from low self-esteem when they find out that the children of non-rich people can be just as smart and talented as the children of the wealthy. Some of them are even smarter and may get into college for free on things called “scholarships.”

Most important, they will miss all the diversity of exclusive prep schools, where some of the parents make only $5 million a year, while others make $500 million. Imagine, the children of hedge fund managers and the semi-impoverished sixth generation of the robber barons going to school together. It warms the heart. It’s this cross-pollination of old and new money that makes this country great.

Surely these kids will come up with entirely new ideas to make themselves richer than their parents. They’ll have to. Kindergarten could cost $80,000 a year by the time the next generation starts having kids.

Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at

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