What is a CA Education Worth?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. As a Head of School, it is my job to think constantly about the school, not just from the educational perspective, but also from a “business” perspective. Colorado Academy, like other independent schools, is really a non-profit business. We employ more than 200 people and serve nearly 1,000 students. We compete in a dynamic educational landscape. What we do isn’t supposed to be seen or understood as “transactional,” but as something far more long-lived and engaging. What is our value proposition? Why is our “product” worth the cost? What do we offer that cannot be realized anywhere else? Are we doing all that we can to provide the best education for young people?

Having two seniors who have spent the last decade growing up on the CA campus, I also think about this question from a parent’s perspective. I also pay tuition and support the school through The CA Fund and our capital campaigns. Like all of our parents, I have made a deliberate decision to invest in my children’s education. As a parent, I want them to be in a supportive community that challenges them to be intellectually curious. I want them to be in a school that values the arts and athletics. I want them be challenged to think about social justice and take positive action to make the world a better place. I want them to be in a community that has a sense of shared values. I want them to be confronted with different ideas. I want them to learn from peers and teachers who come from different backgrounds. I want them to feel good about who they are and what they have to offer. I want them to be able to learn to be resilient and independent. I do not expect them to have a “perfect” experience, but to learn both from the inevitable positives and negatives that come from any endeavor.

I am so grateful to spend time with [my daughter] and see how beautifully she has grown in so many ways and how proud she makes me. It is sad because she is ready to leave the nest and fly, but I am happy because I can see her wings are strong.

While we can add up the dollars that we invest, how do we put a price tag on our return? Sure, we could look at numbers like a GPA or standardized test scores. We could calculate the number of artistic performances and athletic events. We could look at the number of school days and hours spent in the classrooms or laboratories learning. Some will study the college matriculation lists and make assumptions about value. We might even look at win-loss records in sports. However, I would argue that the true value of a CA education is bigger than any of that and tough to calculate objectively.

Value is truly defined by an individual’s experience and journey, and that can vary from one student and one family to the next. Nevertheless, there are some common themes that we hear from students, faculty, and families who love CA and appreciate what it offers. At the core is our sense of community and culture — a culture that inspires excellence in a range of activities and pursuits, both during one’s time at CA, and in students’ lives well beyond our campus.

Among the favorite communications I get are the letters and emails from parents about their children who are stepping into their next roles after CA. Says the parent of three children who graduated from CA, “Each of them is doing well, facing their share of challenges but moving through them. CA will always hold a special place in my heart. … It was comforting knowing the school placed such a high emphasis on meeting the needs of the individual. It is something I strived to do as a parent. Having the school echoing the values I tried to instill was truly a gift.” A dad wrote this to me last spring: “This school has been a unique and irreplaceable opportunity, for my kids, and their parents.” And we recently received this from the parent of a senior: “I am so grateful to spend time with [my daughter] and see how beautifully she has grown in so many ways and how proud she makes me. It is sad because she is ready to leave the nest and fly, but I am happy because I can see her wings are strong.”

Well beyond the transactional nature of purchasing a product, at CA we are in the business of helping children become people, of teaching and training critical thinkers to tackle the monumental issues of the future, and of working with families to help create those who we know will do well in the world by doing good in the world.

We are able to do all that that because our students benefit from the work, vision, thought, and generosity of those who have come before. So, when we take on new building projects such as those on campus right now, we are, of course, building for our students today, and we are anxious to complete these projects so that current families maximize their use. But we are also building for the students of tomorrow, just as people did decades before we arrived here.

As you may know, we started a campus renovation several years ago, beginning with the historic Welborn House. We then moved on to tackle the Visual Arts Building. Now we are at work on the gymnasium, and soon, we’ll turn our attention to the theater. The gym and the theater have not been renovated on this campus for more than 40 years, and we know that these antiquated spaces are constraining our ability to deliver our mission.

Generous donors have supported this effort with more than $22 million, but our work is not done yet: we need $6.8 million to complete the Athletic Center. As we continue to reach out to our community, I hope it is clear that no matter the level at which you can give, we need your support. I hope you will be bold in your giving and think long term; many people are making pledges that can be fulfilled over three to five years. I hope you will consider the power of collective action to help improve the quality of arts and athletic facilities on this campus, for your children and for future CA students.

Therein lies the value of a CA education — of being part of the continuum of people who have shared this transformational experience and whose “transaction” will be to ensure that the same experience is there for children tomorrow.