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Schools offer needs- and merit-based financial aid to attract a range of students who could not otherwise afford to attend

St Michael University School

A shrinking school-age population, a sluggish post-recession economy and tuition sticker shock pose a challenge for non-profit private schools: how to convince middle-class parents that an elite education for their children is financially within reach?

"This is a huge priority for our schools because they value diversity, including socio-economic diversity," says Anne-Marie Kee, executive director of the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools, an association of non-profit independent schools.

Her member schools typically offer a range of financial assistance options, with an increasing focus on need-based bursaries tied to family income. Last year, 6,400 of about 45,000 CAIS-member students received $59.3-million in aid.

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Since the 2008 financial crisis, CAIS schools are intensifying strategies to recruit a diverse mix of students, domestic and international, whose parents previously have not considered private school for their children.

Three years ago, St. Michaels University School in Victoria announced a student video contest to attract top-notch candidates who might shy away from applying because of a $50,000 price tag for North American boarding students. Students were asked to prepare a 3- to 5-minute video explaining what they thought they would gain from a year at the school, founded in 1906.

"We believe not enough families in North America understand what a great experience a boarding education can be," says Laura Authier, director of marketing and communications for St. Michaels, which already provides $2.3-million a year in financial assistance. The winner receives $50,000, with $10,000 each for two runners-up.

Like St. Michaels, other schools are expanding their financial-aid resources. Here is a cross-country sample of schools and some of their financial-aid options:

Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, Wilcox, Sask. (Catholic, co-ed, 9-12): Open to all faiths and backgrounds, the school provided $1.3-million in financial assistance this year to 51 per cent of its students. Returning boarding students are eligible for merit scholarships worth between $3,000 and $11,200.

Balmoral Hall School, Winnipeg, Man. (girls, K-12): The school offers need-based financial assistance of up to 50-per-cent tuition relief, including boarding fees where applicable, for domestic and international students.

Bishop's College School, Sherbrooke, Que., (co-ed, 7-12): The school offers approximately $1.5-million in scholarships and financial assistance annually, supporting about 40 per cent of students. A fee discount applies to siblings, worth 10 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, for a second and third child.

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Bishop Strachan School, Toronto (girls, K-12): The school, which provides more than $1-million annually in financial aid, is raising additional funds for tuition assistance, program support and scholarships Financial aid is offered to students from Grade 7-12, but an academic merit scholarship of $3,000 is awarded to the top student entering Grade 3.

Calgary French and International School, Calgary (co-ed, French immersion, age 3-Grade 12): The school is introducing a "bridging bursary" to help families who face an emergency and might otherwise be forced, for financial reasons, to withdraw a child.

Lakefield College School, Lakefield, Ont. (co-ed, 9-12): One in four students receive financial aid through scholarships and need-based bursaries, with about $1.8-million awarded annually to almost 100 students.

Neuchâtel Junior College, Neuchâtel, Switzerland (Ontario Grade 12): In addition to a limited number of merit scholarships and need-based bursaries, the school offers the Helvetica Bursary, worth $10,000, and the $2,000 Sarah MacDonald Gouin Family Travel Bursary for students to participate in school trips.

Rothesay Netherwood School, Rothesay, N.B. (co-ed, 6-12): Over the past five years, the school has doubled its endowment to about $7-million for scholarships and financial assistance. This year, 30 per cent of students received some financial help through merit-based scholarships and need-based bursaries.

Sacred Heart School of Halifax (co-ed kindergarten to Grade 6, single-sex Grade 7-12): The only Catholic independent school in Nova Scotia welcomes students of all faiths, with the majority of financial assistance provided through need-based bursaries. About 24 per cent of students receive some form of financial assistance.

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Shawnigan Lake School, Shawnigan Lake, B.C. (co-ed, 8-12): About one-quarter of the school's students receive financial aid, up to a maximum of 40 per cent of fees, along with numerous merit scholarships for new students. A 5-per-cent discount applies on fees for younger siblings of enrolled students.

St. John's Kilmarnock School, Breslau, Ont. (co-ed, K-12): Students entering Grades 7-11 are eligible for scholarships worth up to 65 per cent of fees if they demonstrate "a strong motivation" to do well academically and embrace the school's programs, mission and values.

St. Michaels University School, Victoria (co-ed, K-12): The school provides $1.3-million in financial assistance, with support for about 22 per cent of the student body.

St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School, Oakville, Ont. (girls, pre-K-12): With an endowment of $1.1-million, the school offers financial aid to new and returning students. In 2014-15, the school awarded about $400,000 to 49 students.

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, Okotoks, Alta. (co-ed, 1-12): The Forever Woods Endowment Fund, established after a 2003 avalanche killed seven students, provides scholarships for students entering Grade 10. The awards are in addition to the school's menu of merit scholarships and need-based bursaries.

Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ont. (co-ed, 5-12): For its 150th anniversary this year, the school added the Donald F. Hunter scholarships, with full tuition for two promising day students from Durham Region, Peterborough or Northumberland County. Annually, the school provides more than $2-million in assistance.

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Upper Canada College, Toronto (boys, K-12): The school provides $4.5-million annually in financial aid to students from Grade 5 and up, with support ranging from $5,000 to full tuition. According to the school, 97 per cent of assistance is based on family need, with an evaluation conducted by a third-party organization. Of students who board, 34.5 per cent receive some financial help.

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