Urban to increase tuition for 2013-2014 year, follows trend of other Bay Area independent schools

Jonathan Baer, Staff Writer

In a move spurred by increasing teacher salaries and student aid, beginning in August the school’s annual tuition will increase from $35,320 to $36,970 for the 2013-14 school year, a 4.67 percent jump.

“This tuition level will enable Urban to maintain the outstanding education and co-curricular programs we offer our students, and our commitment to a strong financial aid program,” wrote Head of School Mark Salkind and Chair of the Board of Trustees Peter Ross in a Jan. 24 letter addressed to the parents, faculty, and staff.

Over the last five years, Urban’s average tuition has increased by 4.2 percent per year, making this year’s tuition increase slightly above average compared with recent years. Over the last 20 years, the average annual tuition increase has been 5.8 percent, according to Susan Munn, Urban’s director of finance and operations.

Even with an increase that could cost Urban families up to $1,650 annually, there has been minimal student reaction to the tuition increase.

“I think a fairly large portion of the students either don’t know about (the tuition increase), or don’t care that much,” said Abby Schantz (’14), who is the student representative on the Board of Trustees and has had an active voice in Urban’s budgetary process.

According to a Legend survey taken by 139 Urban students on Feb. 10, 4.3 percent think the increase is positive, 60.6 percent think it is negative, 15.3 percent are neutral about it, and 20.9 percent are undecided.

Tuition increases have been a trend among Bay Area private schools. San Francisco University High School’s tuition will increase next year from $35,440 to $37,250, rising by 5.2 percent; Marin Academy’s tuition will increase from $36,080 to $38,000, growing by 5.3 percent; and Lick-Wilmerding High School’s tuition will increase from $34,996 to $36,539, rising 4.4 percent, according to the schools’ respective websites.

As a result of a budget heavily reliant on tuition, expanding salaries and expenses have gone hand-in-hand with tuition increases. For the 2012-13 school year, Urban’s operating budget stands at $12.4 million. According to Munn, up to 87 percent of the school’s revenue comes from tuition, and the rest comes from contributions, the annual Urban auction, and the endowment.

Even though Urban’s budget changes marginally every year, the general model has stayed the same: Approximately two-thirds of the budget goes towards teacher and staff salaries and benefits; 10 percent is distributed to extracurricular activities, such as the athletic department, outdoor education, and theater program; 10 percent is allocated to administrative expenses, which include insurance, memberships, and school supplies; and another 10 percent goes towards utilities, maintenance, and repairs. In addition, Urban has a $7.5 million mortgage, with payments totaling $500,000 a year.

“The model hasn’t changed much,” said Munn, who has worked at Urban for 22 years, but will be stepping down in June. “(The tuition revenue) has always been 85 percent — sometimes it’s actually been 90 percent — of the income, and salaries have made up about two-thirds of the expenses.”

Even though the structure of the budget has remained constant, the size has grown drastically: For the 1986-87 school year, the budget was $1.3 million, compared to a budget of $12.4 million for the 2012-13 school year. When adjusted for inflation, $1.3 million in 1986 translates to $2.7 million today, according to a Legend calculation based on the Consumer Price Index.

Urban’s student body also has grown. For the 2003-04 academic year, Urban had 262 students enrolled, compared to this year’s enrollment of 377 students, according to Urban’s registrar.  And tuition has increased: For instance, in 1986, Urban’s annual tuition was $6,300, compared to next year’s tuition of $36,970.

Urban’s endowment also is part of the financial mix. ( According to the Urban school website, Urban’s endowment is “a pool of invested funds that produce a permanent flow of interest income beyond tuition revenue to support the school’s operating budget.”

Urban’s endowment stands at $6 million. Compared to other private schools in San Francisco, Urban’s endowment is relatively small. Lick-Wilmerding, for example, has an endowment of more than $45 million. Even though Lick’s 2013-14 tuition of $36,539 is nearly the same as Urban’s $36,970, Lick provides financial aid for 41 percent of its student body, whereas Urban provides for 29 percent of its student body, according to the schools’ respective websites.

An increased focus on the endowment could allow Urban to keep its tuition increases lower in the future.

“Many more mature schools, older schools, have larger endowments, so they are less tuition-dependent,” said Munn.

While tuition and budgets directly affect each student’s experience at Urban, students seem to be detached from the process.

“I think that very few students know much of anything about the budgetary process,” said Schantz. “Students who actively try to find our about the process are able to, but from my experience, the majority do not involve themselves with it that much.”