Tiffany Hynek completed her post-practicum reflection on her experience in the Dominican Republic and passionately describes the adverse situation that the private school system is facing there.
Tanda Extendida, the policy changes affecting the public school system in the Dominican Republic, have created a huge threat for the K-12 Christian private schools to which Edify and its microfinance partners, Esperanza and Aspire, provide loans. I was assigned to a team of University of San Diego graduate business students who were hired by Edify and its partners to travel to the Dominican Republic to help find solutions for these private schools. The schools were seeing high loss rates in their retention of students and teachers who were believed to be moving to public schools, due to the apparent rise in public school education levels and higher teacher salaries. The issue became apparent as we met with Edify, Esperanza and Aspire staff who shared their high levels of apprehension with us. They were concerned that with tuition beginning to leave the private schools, it would be increasingly more difficult for their clients to make loan payments and the availability of faith-based private education would decrease.
After hearing about the issues concerning our clients, we headed out into the field to visit thirteen private schools and hear the concerns of the principals and directors of these schools. These individuals largely echoed the concerns voiced by our client’s staff members: students were rapidly withdrawing from the private schools in order to access free education at the public schools, teachers were leaving in order to gain higher paying jobs at the public schools, and loan payments were going to be harder to make with less tuition coming into the private schools.
At this point, our team decided it was important for us to meet with the private school parents to find out their opinions on education, as they were the major decision makers in this situation. We were able to meet with a number of parents who shared their concerns about safety, nutrition, and discipline. Many of the parents had attended public schools as children themselves, but were concerned with the level of safety in the public schools where there were often 50 to 60 children for each teacher to both watch and educate. They were also concerned that the teacher to student ratio in the public schools made it impossible for teachers to discipline their students. However, due to the Tanda Extendida regulations, the public schools were now offering free breakfast and lunch programs for the children, which was very enticing for many of the parents whom we were able to speak with.
At this point, our team recognized the importance of the situation and we needed a solution. We realized that the public schools had a huge benefit that the private schools were missing out on: economies of scale. For example, the public schools were able to purchase cheap meals from suppliers for their students because they were purchasing thousands of meals per day. However, the private schools would only be able to purchase a couple hundred meals per day, therefore losing out on bulk discounts. We realized that in order to compete with the government supported public school system, the private schools needed to work together to form a trade association.
Through this trade organization, they could work together to create benefits of economies of scale, learn from each other’s best practices, and create large scale marketing campaigns. We were able to contact food suppliers who were interested in working with a trade organization of private schools to supply affordable meals to a number of private schools. At this point, we were able to develop the beginnings of a food program for interested schools. This would not only help them remain competitive in the new market conditions, but it would also help to provide the much needed nutrition to their children. We presented our idea of the trade association and accompanying programs to CEOs and staff members of Edify, Esperanza, and Aspire, who loved the idea and wanted to move forward with the creation of the trade association as soon as possible. Our team is looking forward to also presenting our findings and recommendations to the CEO of Edify, and longtime supporter of USD, Chris Crane.
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