Financial Sustainability Model: Independent Schools

St. Anne’s-Belfield School

With assistance from the E.E. Ford Foundation, we are embarking on a yearlong comprehensive study to examine the financial model used by St. Anne’s-Belfield and other independent schools. In doing so, we are asking the tough questions and working to find the answers. Is the current financial model sustainable? If the model is not sustainable, how do we change it to ensure we have sufficient resources to support our programs? How can we address the fixed costs of operating our schools that are far outpacing inflation and tuition levels? How high can tuitions go until they reach a price point?

After completing the largest campaign in our school’s history, achieving record and selective enrollment and waiting lists in most grades, and seeing our programs grow and improve, we take on this ambitious project from a position of strength, not desperation. However, like most independent schools, we rely heavily on tuition (84%) to cover our operating expenses. Furthermore, we believe our schools are making short-term decisions at the expense of long-term, strategically sound financial choices.

A key component of this project is our partnership with the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. With the involvement of two distinguished professors, several graduate students, and a research assistant, we are applying the most current business thinking and analysis to our own financial position to assess our long-term fiscal strength, based on current data and assumptions about the future. Focus groups are also being held with current and former Trustees, many of whom have strong backgrounds in the corporate world, and with nationally known leaders in the independent school world, including NAIS President Pat Bassett.

When our study is completed, we will share our findings with other independent schools, and we hope that together we can determine the appropriate next steps and implementation.

To learn more about St. Anne’s-Belfield School, visit