Many local private schools are experiencing increased enrollment for the new academic year after struggling in recent years.

King, a private school on Newfield Avenue in Stamford, is seeing record high enrollment for the upcoming school year, according to Director of Admissions Carrie Salvatore. King recently raised its enrollment cap to 685 students, and each available seat will be filled in September, Salvatore said.

The school, which costs $32,500 annually for high school students, also received an increased number of applications this year -- both for admission and financial assistance, she said.

"There was a slight increase in applications for financial assistance this year, and an uptick in current families who had never required assistance in previous years needing it for a one- or two-year help with tuition," Salvatore said.

But the majority of requests for assistance occurred two years ago, she said.

"This year, I think we saw a lot of that start to settle," she said.

The unemployment rate in Fairfield County was 8 percent in June, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. It was 5.1 percent in June 2008 before jumping to 8.1 percent in June 2009.

About 12 percent of families who send students to King receive financial aid, according to Salvatore. The packages range from $3,000 to $32,000, and the average grant hovers near $15,000, she said.

King's ninth-grade class will have 88 members this fall, making it the upper school's largest incoming class yet, she said. In total, the school system, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, will host 130 new students this year.

"I think we've been really lucky. We really weathered the financial storm last year quite well. Even though we saw slightly higher attrition, we had more applications coming in," she said.

King was not the only independent school to experience higher rates of attrition in recent years.

"It has happened that families have not come back because of financial reasons -- we've felt it as other schools have," said Nancy Hayes, director of admissions at New Canaan Country School, which serves about 615 students in pre-kindergarten through ninth grades. The school's annual price tag ranges from $23,500 to $30,000 plus fees, increasing as children grow older.

"I think the impact was greater last year in the 2009-10 admission season," she said. "There's always a normal amount of attrition anyway. I would say our attrition has been less this year than it was last year, and retention was stronger."

In fact, retention rates for students entering ninth grade increased 20 percent over last year, she said.

The eighth-to-ninth-grade transition typically comes with attrition as families make decisions about a student's high school years, said Sam Gaudet, director of admissions at St. Luke's School, also located in New Canaan, which serves students in fifth through 12th grade.

"Our retention for eighth to ninth has been pretty good," Gaudet said.

The preparatory school, which costs about $32,000 a year, has received 20 percent more applications for the upcoming year than last year, he said.

"Certainly last year, you saw more families applying for financial aid, but when we compare this year to last year, it's been pretty flat," he said.

Last year, some of the area's Catholic schools, run by the Diocese of Bridgeport, took on new students who had previously attended more expensive private schools, according to Joann Borchetta, principal of St. Cecilia Elementary School, located in Stamford.

"This year, we're seeing less of the kids coming from other private schools," she said. "Last year, I wouldn't call it significant, but it certainly let us know that something was different."

The number of Stamford children attending St. Cecilia's in the 2010 academic year increased by 5 percent over the 2008 academic year, while the percentage of Stamford children attending King decreased by 6 percent, according to data from the state Department of Education.

The diocese's schools charge $5,500 per "certified" pupil, and an additional $2,000 if the students are not certified. Students are certified by a pastor based on attendance at church and whether they are "living the faith," Borchetta said.

Administrators at the elementary school projected they would teach 276 students in the 2010 academic year, but they ended up hosting 302 students, she said. The projection for this year was 275 students; administrators are now expecting about 300 students again, according to Borchetta.

"Tough times make people make honest decisions, and we're seeing parents who are totally committed to the education and the future of their children," Borchetta said. But while several local administrators say parents are choosing to invest in their children's future by choosing private schools, Borchetta noted that the choice and the sacrifices involved aren't always easy.

"We do offer a very minimal amount of tuition assistance," she said. "Earlier, I was on the phone with a mother, and she said that if she could just get some financial aid instead of working her day job and six nights a week, she would work her day job and three nights a week to keep her kids in Catholic schools."