Flexible Tuition program reduces barriers to entry, students hope for servery coverage in future

Members+of+the+junior+class+pose+for+a+photo+during+their+Arrow+Week+trip+in+Wyoming.+The+expenses+for+this+excursion+are+included+within+the+Flexible+Tuition+program.

Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Casey Huff

Members of the junior class pose for a photo during their Arrow Week trip in Wyoming. The expenses for this excursion are included within the Flexible Tuition program.

By Vaughan Anoa'i and Greta Irvine

 Student life at Archer goes beyond the classroom setting; whether it is purchasing uniforms or attending an Arrow Week trip, learning paired with hands-on experiences make up a complete Archer education. As an independent private school, financial costs play a role for all members of the Archer community.

Archer is considered to be one of the most expensive private schools in Los Angeles, with tuition costs at $43,275 per year. Additionally, the Transportation, Services and Facility Fee is currently listed at $4,350, and includes the 1 to 1 Laptop Program. For students who are new to Archer, they must pay $3,500 to comply with the New Student Fee, which is one time only. Affording the tuition as well as the additional fees may be seemingly impossible without financial aid for some families.

To ensure students from different socioeconomic backgrounds can experience an Archer education, the Flexible Tuition program reduces economic barriers to entry and student life. 

“Flexible Tuition is a program that makes it possible for people on various income levels to attend Archer,” Associate Head of School for Finance and Operations Jane Davis said. “And that’s [the] goal — to make it as inclusive as possible from an economic standpoint.”

During the 2021-2022 school year, Archer awarded $4.2 million to the Flexible Tuition program. For students who receive a Flexible Tuition award, financial aid covers a range of expenses, including tuition and mandatory fees, as well as the primary expenses for school uniforms, Arrow Week excursions, school materials and other school-sponsored events. 

“Part of being an Archer student is not just the classes you attend, but it’s all the other things that you can be involved in, and in terms of clubs, sports, dance and all [of] the range of things that we offer, we want to make sure that people feel like they can be part of that,” Director of Human Resources and Flexible Tuition Specialist Jessica McCullagh said. “It really is inclusive … [it’s not just] allowing them to attend the classes, but it’s allowing them to be really part of the community completely as much as possible.”

Incoming and returning families must complete an annual online application to receive a Flexible Tuition grant, which evaluates the financial information of each respective family. Different levels of awards are given to families based on the suggested awards from the online service, FAST, as well as an Archer committee. 

“We use an outside service called FAST, and that’s the online application. They also have a suggested award, and sometimes it needs some nuance. And so that actually is part of the committee’s job to be able to look at — maybe somebody’s income is at a certain level, but their expenses are very low or so on and so forth,” Davis said. “So it’s a more holistic evaluation of a family’s ability to pay.”

A family’s financial standing is not considered in admission when applying to Archer. During the 2021-2022 school year, approximately 20% of families received varying levels of aid through the Flexible Tuition program.

During the 2021-2022 school year, the average grant covered 76% of the $43,275 tuition. Davis said the program’s generosity is reflective of Archer’s mission statement.

“Archer is incredibly generous with its financial aid program. I mean, our numbers — there are schools that are much bigger than us, they have much higher revenue numbers that have lower amounts of financial aid, and we look at our peer schools and survey data, and we’re really giving away a lot of money and financial aid — That’s part of our mission,” Davis said. “I feel great about the amount of resources that we have donated.”

During the pandemic, the Circumstantial Grant Program was instituted for two years to allow families directly impacted by COVID-19 to apply for financial aid. For junior Lizette Gonzalez, the financial aid program had a significant impact on her ability to attend school with the necessary resources during the pandemic. 

“I wouldn’t be at Archer without the flexible tuition program just because I do come from a low-income family,” Gonzalez said. “That’s really helped me to be able to come to a school like Archer and have the opportunities that I’ve had here without having to think about the financial burden that Archer would have had on my family.”

It’s a cool thing that Archer is able to bring students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to come here with the flexible tuition they cover — that’s actually a really, really grateful thing that I have, and it’s impacted my life so much.”

— Lizette Gonzalez ('23)

“Another factor [is] they pay for our textbooks and for school materials as well. So … in COVID, it was really helpful because of the fact that we had a laptop and that was obviously central to Zoom,” Gonzalez said. “But also in COVID, it was hard to get resources, but Archer actually helped a lot and facilitated the process through websites, and they gave us vouchers.”

Since financial compensation is not something that is awarded to every family that applies to the program, eighth grader Vivienne Arnold said she is motivated by gratitude to make the most out of this educational experience.

“I feel like it makes me want to try my hardest at Archer because there’s this fear of if I don’t do as well as I could, I’m not making the most of this,” Arnold said. “I got extremely lucky with this opportunity, so that really impacts how I view all of the opportunities that Archer gives us.” 

Some students have expressed concern about the servery expenses not being covered in the Flexible Tuition program. The servery, similar to a student store, is a place where students can buy snacks or hot lunch plates throughout the school day. A lunch of one entree and two sides costs $8. 

“I bring lunch from home because of the fact that servery is expensive. I do go for snacks or smaller things, but I personally haven’t had an entree here at Archer because of the expenses that it would bring,” Gonzalez said. “So I think if Archer can do it, definitely maybe doing a stipend monthly or per semester for students who receive flexible tuition, I think, would be really, really helpful because I mean, it’s food. It’s really essential.”

Prior to the servery, students could purchase lunch through the company Freshlunches. Fresh Lunches provided a small discount on the cost of lunches to students on flexible tuition.

“I live far away from Archer — I have to be on my bus by 6:50 latest, meaning that I’m usually up around 6:00, and I don’t always have time to make or eat a full meal … So it has been a huge challenge that the servery is not covered under Flexible Tuition, especially for students like myself, who did have it covered under Flexible Tuition back in ninth grade,” senior Chidimma Nwafor said. “Then you have to start rationing the amount you can eat because you don’t have enough funds to cover it — it’s really disappointing.”

The servery opened in 2019, and due to the pandemic, it has never been open for a full school year. Davis spoke to the challenges of running the servey and a potential reevaluation of its inclusion in the program. 

“That program actually is not profitable, for lack of a better way of describing it. And so we need to get that program to a place where it can actually free up some funds,” Davis said. “At that point, maybe we will reevaluate that process, but at this point in time, that is not included in the incidental budget.” 

Gonzalez acknowledged the importance of opening the conversation of flexible tuition to the broader community to promote a more accepting and informed culture on campus. 

“There is still a stigma not only here at Archer, but in other independent schools or even in colleges when talking about scholarships … [that] makes [people] feel shameful for having flexible tuition. But I do think Archer is an exception to that because I haven’t personally had an encounter with that and I have been vocal with people about the fact that I am on the program,” Gonzalez said. “I think a lot of students don’t know that a lot of things go into the program, it’s not only tuition — prom, Arrow Week, the laptop — there are multiple factors that I don’t think are pretty known … I think the more we talk about it, the more the culture will be accepting.”

Correction Statement:

(May 31, 2022, 10:35 a.m.): Information regarding Fresh Lunches and flexible tuition was updated to reflect the small discount on Fresh Lunches students on flexible tuition received.