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Lighten that Burden

Barbara Bensoussan

Ask frum parents to name their most staggering expense, and the answer will be tuition. It’s a heavy — sometimes crippling — burden for individuals and the community, and a perfect, neat solution still isn’t in sight. But some communities have found innovative approaches to soften the blow of the largest single item on the family’s budget.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rabbi Yehuda Gottesman, an administrator at Yeshiva Gedola Merkaz Hatorah of Montreal, was crunching the numbers of his yeshivah last year when he realized his institution was badly in need of funds. So he decided it was time to crack down on the yeshivah’s biggest source of income: the parents. He asked them all to fill out financial questionnaires and he input the data on a spreadsheet. He looked closely at how much the parents were paying in rent and mortgage, the size of their car payments, the total sums of their monthly credit card statements, and how much special emergency situations put them back. And, of course, he looked at their tuition bills. But when he tallied up the numbers to see if he could squeeze just a bit more out of parents, he was horrified. “I thought, how can I possibly expect most of these parents to contribute more?” he recalls. “They’re already strained to the limit! Many of them are borrowing until they collapse! “It’s the middle- to upper-middle-income people who suffer the most,” he adds. “They don’t get breaks, but can easily be paying $30,000 or more in tuitions. They’re really struggling.” Sound uncomfortably familiar? Most North American frum families are groaning mightily under the juggernaut of tuitions. A 2001 study found that day school tuitions range from $5,000 to $18,000 across the country. But a more recent study published by The Jewish Funders Network in January 2014 put day school tuitions between $15,000 and $18,000 (though this study did not include yeshivish and chassidish schools, where the tuitions are less.) The study further found that tuition costs rose 4 to 6 percent from 2000 to 2008, while average annual income rose only 2.5 percent in the same period. And as the tuitions increase, the need for schooling only grows stronger. An October 2014 study conducted by Marvin Schick at the Avi Chai Foundation found that there were nearly 255,000 students enrolled in every stripe of Jewish school across the nation (from nondenominational to chassidish). That’s an increase of 12 percent, or 27,000 students, since the last study in 2008–2009, and up 37 percent since 1998. The growth in enrollment has been most dramatic in the yeshivah world and chassidish sectors, 60 percent and 110 percent respectively from 1998 to 2013. These two communities now represent 60 percent of all day school enrollment.

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