Today's Grand Rapids Press reported that nearly thirty five years after the Grand Rapids Christian Schools attempted to shut down Oakdale Christian School, the Board of Trustees is trying again. In an effort to cut down costs while facing the reality of declining enrollment, the Board of Trustees is closing the three remaining elementary schools (Millbrook, Creston, and Oakdale) and consolidating these into one elementary school. This is on top of the closing of Seymour and Sylvan elementary schools in 2003/4. The citywide Christian School system has declined drastically since I graduated from Christian High School in 1998; system wide enrollment that year was around 3,300; this year it barely holds over 2,500.
Many parents from Oakdale are getting together to prevent the closing the school. One parent (and a Professor at Grand Valley State University) took the time to do an analysis of the enrollment decline in the Grand Rapids Christian Schools since 1969. This excellent report argues that massive tuition increases, along with the CRC's decline in the central city explains much of the decline.
When I think of my own experience in the Grand Rapids Christian School system, I have mixed feelings. I greatly enjoyed attending my local christian school (Seymour), and found my time at Grand Rapids Christian High School rewarding. However, the staggering tuition costs (which I know that my parents struggled to pay on one income with four children to pay for) certainly limited the students who attended high school with me. I then, and still do, associate the rising tuition with a decline in racial and socio-economic diversity within the school system. Who wants to shell out $7,000 a year to attend a very good school with a nearly all white population with incomes well in the upper middle class? Grand Rapids Christian High is on the road to becoming another Detroit Country Day, or at least another American Pie High School-with Jesus on the side.
I sometimes get mail from my alma mater. The request is inevitability for 1) helping build the new football/basketball stadium, 2) funding the new arts theatre, or 3) or to update my alumni profile. Never have I gotten a request for funds to help reduce the cost of tuition to make this school system available for hundreds of students whose parents may be sincerely interested in a christian education, but cannot afford it. I honestly feel that these tuition problems could be eliminated if the well off donors supporting building projects for the system would create an endowment to cut tuition down $2,000 a year for nearly all students. Sure the cost would be significant, requiring an endowment of over $100 million. However, the cost of doing otherwise is simply: the christian school system in Grand Rapids that educated 2 generations in my family (and employed another) is doomed to extinction.