As president of Fairmont Private Schools, David Jackson understands the cost of tuition — and its role in determining where students attend preschool through college.
“I had a number of families that would come to me and say, ‘We really love the school, but I need to pull them out because I need to save for college,’” Jackson said. “So they would go to some of the top public schools because college was so expensive.”
So Jackson started digging into the numbers to see if graduates from Fairmont, a collection of schools from preschool through high school located in Anaheim, Anaheim Hills and Tustin, were getting a return on their investment, and found that Fairmont students were getting “huge amounts” of scholarships from the colleges they eventually went on to.
This gave him the idea for College Promise, an innovative program pledging seniors will receive scholarship money from a top university equal to the total amount of tuition they paid in four years of high school. If not, Fairmont will pay the difference.
“I want to not only tell people, ‘This is what you’ll get’ — I’m going to guarantee it because I want to show people, ‘Don’t pull your kids out because you want to save money, but then your kid won’t get into a great school, and they’re not going to be as prepared, and they aren’t going to get nearly as much scholarship money,” Jackson said
Headmaster Robert Mendoza said the proposal initially shocked the school’s staff.
“When David started talking about this, I said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Mendoza said. “But once he explained that he had done his due diligence, it went from, ‘Are you crazy?’ to ‘Yeah, this is a great idea and we should have done this earlier.’”
To qualify for the full program, Mendoza explained a student has to have been enrolled at Fairmont for 10 years and be in the top quartile of their class. For these graduates, Fairmont guarantees acceptance into a top 100 school — according to U.S. News and World Report rankings — plus scholarships equal to their high school tuition.
“Let’s call tuition $25,000,” Mendoza said. “Over the four years of Fairmont Prep you’re paying $100,000. If you’re a quartile one student, and we don’t get you into a top 100 college — defined as a top 100 national, regional or liberal arts schools — then we owe that family $100,000 payable to the attending university.”
For qualifying students who are accepted to a top 100 school but don’t receive $100,000 in scholarships — meaning Fairmont met half of its promise — the school will pay $50,000.
“They can count on it, they can take it to the bank,” Jackson said.
Students who come to Fairmont later — but no later than 7th grade — and students who rank below the top quartile are eligible for a portion of the guarantee.
A calculator on the school’s website lets families know how much reimbursement they are entitled to. This year’s high school freshmen will be the first class eligible for the program when they graduate in three and a half years.
To fulfill the promise, Jackson said, Fairmont has eight college counselors — all of whom are former collegiate admissions officers — in addition to academic counseling who work with students to develop an appropriate course load, extra-curricular activities and community service in order to stand out on college applications.
These resources will ensure students not only get into a top school, but also find the right fit for them, Jackson said.
While the College Promise is bold — Jackson said he thinks it’s the only one of its kind in the world — Fairmont has long been producing the same results in terms of college acceptances and scholarships for its graduates, he said.
“We’ve been delivering on this for years,” Jackson said, “but now we’re saying, ‘We’re putting our money where our mouth is.’”
Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil is a contributor to Times Community News.