Metropolitan Preview: Private School Enrollment and Tuition Rising

In this Sunday’s Metropolitan cover story, I chronicle the effort by the educational entrepreneur Chris Whittle to create Avenues, a new for-profit private school in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. An internationally focused school with a bilingual bent, it eventually plans to enroll about 1600 students in nursery through 12th grades.

Mr. Whittle’s timing couldn’t be better. Enrollment at New York City private schools is rising , according to the National Association of Independent Schools (recession? What recession?), and tuition at city schools is rising faster than tuition at private schools everywhere else, as the accompanying charts from the NAIS make clear.

Here in the city, enrollment rose by about 3 percent between the 2007-2008 school year and 2010-2011 (though it grew at a slower pace every year). Nationally, enrollment dipped 1 percent from 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.

In 2005-2006, tuition at city schools was about 58 percent higher than at schools elsewhere. By 2010-2011, New York was 63 percent higher.

Mr. Whittle and his partners are confident they can succeed, in part because of the imbalance between the number of children applying to New York’s top private schools and the number of seats available. Getting into Horace Mann, one of New York City’s most elite private schools, is about as hard as getting into Columbia University, says Amanda Uhry, president of Manhattan Private School Advisors, which consults with families about private school admissions: Each institution takes about 6 percent of applicants, she says.

Ms. Uhry says that the estimate of Horace Mann’s acceptance rate is based only on her own data (she advises about 1,500 families a year). Horace Mann does not disclose that information.

But it’s that level of competition that creates ample opportunities for consultants like Ms. Uhry – and also for entrepreneurs like Mr. Whittle. Read the article and let us know what you think.

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Between the North and South Poles, a Layover in New York

Few New Yorkers seemed to appreciate this week’s blazing sunshine like Johan Ernst Nilson. A sunburned Swedish explorer, on break from his journey from the North to the South Pole, Mr. Nilson leaned back in his chair in the entrance of the Standard Hotel on Tuesday morning, sipped a soda and relished the warmth. It’s not just been a long winter: it’s been a journey filled with chases by bears and death-defying dips in icy Arctic waters.

Mr. Nilson who is making his journey by skis, dog sled, sailboat, bicycle and kite sled, is an expert on all types of alternative transportation. This week, though, he learned to master transportation feats like how to get to the Bronx from the meatpacking district to meet with representatives from charitable groups he has worked with.

After he arrived on Monday from Vancouver, Mr. Nilson took the E train to his hotel, followed by a two-hour walk through Central Park. Even when Mr. Nilson takes any type of less environmentally friendly form of transportation — like a taxi — he notifies a Swedish company to calculate how much energy he has spent and to make a donation to environmental groups.

“If I do have to use an engine, I try to compensate with that,” he said.

The wilds of Manhattan have proved more welcoming to Mr. Nilson than the Arctic. Last month, he was chased by a bear that he outran on his bike. In April, he fell below the ice and nearly slipped under.

At 41, Mr. Nilson is ready to quit the exploration game and focus on giving speeches and writing books about his travels. After he completes this journey early next year, he plans to move to New York City and attempt journeys nearly as daunting as climbing Mount Everest. He wants to rent an apartment, date and eventually start a family.

“I don’t have a family, and I don’t have a girlfriend,” he said. His plan: “search within yourself.”

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