With a boarding tuition of over $57,000, it is unclear what exactly this money ends up paying for. How much money goes towards the students? Maintenance? Food? I set out to find the answer.
Mr. Poulsen, Thacher’s Director of Finance and Operations, compiled a list of the answers (shown below) to all my questions and printed it out on the yellow sheet of paper pictured above. The right column lists all the per student data, while the left breaks down the school’s total revenue and expenses.
While looking over the sheet, the category labeled “Total Personnel Cost” grabbed my attention. It was over half of our expenses! And after all, don’t schools much more poorly funded than us employ people, too? However, I think it is important to note our student body is so much smaller than most other schools; the cost of employing all the amazing people that work here is just simply distributed over a much more concentrated group of students. In fact, the student to teacher ratio is something that really makes Thacher stand out from other schools. Just this year, I have 12 students in my environmental science course, 11 in my math class, and 6 in data structures and robotics. Class sizes like that are hard to find in other schools.
Additionally, Thacher employs plenty of faculty and staff outside academics. Our maintenance department is a veritable army. We hire people exclusively to coach sports, instruct riding, manage the library, fundraise, counsel kids in need, manage everything, and more.
All told, the Thacher directory claims there are 142 people on Thacher payroll. With that number and some division, you can quickly figure out that Thacher has fewer than two people employed for every student!
The next biggest expense is labeled as “Materials and Services”. More of a grab-bag for myriad miscellaneous expenses than a definite category, Mr. Poulsen told me it covers everything from legal services to pens and pencils. But what makes this section interesting is that these small costs somehow add up to $4 million!
Another astounding fact is Thacher’s expenditure for financial aid: 3 million dollars of it, in fact! Nearly 1 in 4 students at Thacher is given a grant, and considering that the average grant is $41,400, it’s hard to argue that Thacher is unaffordable for deserving students. However, those figures only describe the students on “additional financial assistance”. If you look closely, you can see that, in fact, all 262 students here are on financial aid.
Believe it or not, if Thacher were to fund itself solely on tuition, it would be running on a deficit.
Even though full boarding tuition this year is a whopping $57,200, it still falls $34,904 short of covering each of our expenses. How the heck does Thacher balance this budget?
The answer: the last section in the table. As you can see, it has two parts. The second is the draw from Thacher’s massive endowment. The first, however, is simply generosity, mostly of people you probably don’t even know. For the school year of 2017, alumni, parents, and others have donated at least $3 million. On top of the Annual Fund, Thacher has other campaigns like the Parents’ Fund, as well as projects for expenses not covered in the budget, like the new baseball field or the solar panels in Carpenter’s Orchard.
According to our Director of Finance and Operations, Thacher actually has one of the highest, if not the highest, participation of alumni in fundraising among boarding schools. They know how special this place was to them, and they know that that was largely made possible by the generosity of people they don’t even know. And as the numbers show, they feel quite compelled to give back to the community which made them who they are today.
At the end of our meeting, I asked Mr. Poulsen what he thought Thacher should know. He stated he believes “it’s important for students to realize that there are people contributing to their experience now through the annual fund and who previously have given to endowment, both of which help to offset their cost of attendance.” Isn’t that just incredible?
He said, “Do not squander your time here. It is an opportunity you will never see again. Thacher is an avenue for excellence, for a level of preparedness for college and the world at large that few other kids have the chance to get. And if you feel content to not take advantage of what Thacher has given us, just remember that you are wasting someone else’s dollar.”
**Special thanks to Mr. Poulsen for providing me with the information about Thacher’s finances, Sharrah Pharr for information on school funding in Texas, and to Sydney de Polo, without whom I never would have figured out how to scan in that sheet of paper.