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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Can the School Charge Anything Less?

I noticed this thread on Imamother and it ties right into our last discussion about budgets and where school tuition will fit (answer: it won't barring any major changes in income)? It also ties into a thread from the past on minimum tuition that remains as one of the most commented on posts to date.

The mother asks Is this Normal?:

We just received notice that the tuition committee feels we can pay $20,500 for our four children. That's just over half of our take-home pay of $40,500! Nobody, not the most frugal person on the planet, can feed, clothe, and house a family of 6 KA"H for $20,000 a year (after tuition and taxes) without government assistance, which we don't qualify for. Is everybody being charged a similar amount, or is my family "special" somehow? I just want to know if this is normal?

As terrible as I feel for this family, and I just feel terrible for them because I know there are tough choices ahead for them as well as for most of us, I just don't see how the school(s) can charge much less than than they are currently offering: $5125 per student.

Tuition varies from community to community, but I do believe that "average" tuitions exceed $10,000 for kindergarten, $12,000 for elementary school, and $15,000 for high school, and unless one lives in NY, where tuitions can be a bit lower. Some parents are paying over $20,000 in tuition for high school alone.

Tuition that is just over $5,000 is already a 50% to 75% discount!!! How much lower can be offered?

The mother is correct that her budget simply can't handle a $20,500 tuition bill. She can go back to the school and try to re-negotiate, but the sad fact remains that their entire take home pay probably won't cover full tuition and that tuition is just becoming further and further out of reach for the average family. I've watched increases of between 5% and 7% every single year and I see no signs that this will change.

Yes, the family probably can do some things to improve their take home pay, but that isn't going to solve their immediate situation, nor will the pay increases be so dramatic to change their situation in the near future. Yes, the family can probably try to squeeze a few more dollars out of their food or clothing budget, but chances are that if they are only bringing home $40,500, they aren't living too high off the hog, even if they have not been as frugal as possible.

I will let my readers in on a little secret. This family may have a lower income, but they may well have as much ability to pay this type of tuition as families I've seen making incomes in the six figures, but are strapped with loads of student debt, and for which we all assume they can pay. In other words, low income or high income, there isn't a ton of extra cash floating around bank accounts and that spells TROUBLE.


Anonymous said...

I will let my readers in on a little secret. This family may have a lower income, but they may well have as much ability to pay this type of tuition as families I've seen making incomes in the six figures, but are strapped with loads of student debt, and for which we all assume they can pay. In other words, low income or high income, there isn't a ton of extra cash floating around bank accounts and that spells TROUBLE.

Sounds like you are saying that it's almost over. "It" being the massive foray into private yeshiva day school for almost all modern orthodox children.


ProfK said...

Leaving aside tuition for a moment, this couple already has other problems and no amount of trimming the budget will help them. An article in our newspaper this Shabbos stated that utility prices in the NYC environs rose 18% in the last 6 months, something we have already noticed in our bills. Consumer products of all kinds have, many of them, gone from 50% to 150% higher than last year. And there is no indication that we've hit the peak on prices. For this couple to afford tuition at the price given to them is not possible. At the least the yeshiva would need to reduce the tuition by one child's worth for that couple to just keep up with inflation of prices.

SephardiLady said...

Mark-I don't know that it is almost over. But, I do know that when it takes the resources of 2 generations, that the status quo can't possibly continue into generation number 3.

Shoshana said...

Somehow I have never thought of Yeshiva education as a given. It's at the top of the long list of things we cannot afford on one salary. There is no way we could pay tuition on our income and, therefore, we have never tried. So we were left with two choices: public school or homeschool. We chose the latter. It is by no means free, so please don't be misled. And I do understand that it is not an option for everyone. However, at what point will people say "enough!"? The religious schools are shooting themselves in the foot because the tuition is out of reach for most families. I'm guessing that all of the anxiety over money doesn't exactly draw one's heart to a life of Torah and mitzvahs. It's like being forced to drink from an electrified fountain. There's no where else to find water, but it might kill you every time you take a sip.

triLcat said...

As far as I can see, the original poster really only has two options: Public school or aliya.

With a salary that low, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they can make just as much in Israel.

The time is now! Your home is waiting for you.

Mike S. said...

Why is the income so low? It doesn't say what the gross income is, or whether one or two parents are working, but from the numbers I'd guess that the family's gross is less than the starting salary for a single raw BS with a technical degree. Or than a good and ambitious plumber or electrician with a few years of experience

I have no problems with people valuing a large family and sending them to yeshivah; I did that myself. But at some point that has to go with getting the education and/or experience required earn an income to support such a family.

tdr said...

I'm guessing that all of the anxiety over money doesn't exactly draw one's heart to a life of Torah and mitzvahs.

You said that right! Ever hear of Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It's so ironic that the most spiritual of nations is probably also the most obsessed about money because they are also probably the brokest (note I did not say poorest) of nations?

People keep talking about the implosion of the system and how people are going to start sending their kids to public school in droves. I have a very hard time imagining this is going to happen, but I can't imagine what would be the alternative. Mass aliyah?

IMHO the credit/real estate/mortgage crisis is really a brachah as it is forcing people to face reality rather than postpone it. When I was unable to pay my monthly tuition bill once or twice during this last year it was suggested that I charge it since I didn't have the money.

I've often wondered why our schools don't hire bigtime professional fundraisers? I knew a woman in MA who worked for MIT and whose job was "large donations". She spent a lot of time hobnobbing with moneyed (sp) MIT alums in Florida.

I think the schools need to undertake fundraising on a much larger scale then what they currently do. Dinners, scrip, ad books are such small potatoes compared to what is needed. Someone needs to go after the large corporations and large foundations and create mutli-million dollar endowments. Is there some reason this would not be feasible? Do any schools operate like this?

Are the schools aware of the direness of the situation? Or are the tuition committees and school administrators sitting in their ivory towers under the impression that you can always squeeze a bit more out of the family budget? Do you think when they decided how much to charge this family (12 the gross income) they did so reluctantly? Wishing it could be otherwise and that they had no choice? Or cavalierly? Thinking "oh they'll get it somehow if it's *really* important to them"?

FTR (Baltimore) Full tuition for my 4 yr old is around $5500. I work full-time so this is not optional. For my elementary school kids (MO school) is $7900 each.

baruch said...

you get a bargain only $8,000 for elementary scholl tuition ! - in Bergen county, NJ it is $16,000 for elementary school (including all the cute add-ons - building fund, journal dinner, etc)

High School is $22,000 to $25,000 per year.

How will the next generation pay these tuitions ? which will be $30,000 to $40,000 per year ?

and should we kill ourselves to do it now - if it can't go on

public school - will lead 100% to assimilation and certainly going off the derech, aliya is a solution, and home schooling another - non -religious jews such as leona helmsley are against yeshivas - and would rather give their money to dogs.

I think I can hang on for another year ?

But the system is imploding

triLcat said...

Not that it will ever happen, but if one year, every single Jewish parent registered their elementary school aged children for public school and sent them for a year and the current day schools ran after-school jewish studies programs, it could theoretically force the "voucher system" issue.

I disagree that it would make all the kids go off the derech. I went to public school for grades 1-7, and my parents had to put in a lot of effort to "keep me Jewish" but I was not off the derech and I was able to get it together to go to a religious (MO) high school. If you had a proper after-school program which did just Torah studies, you could manage to keep the kids frum. Of course, it will never happen, but reality is that governments will only spend money if the alternative also involves spending a lot of money.

JS said...

I already see the solution in my parents' community. More and more parents are quietly taking their older children (for whom tuition is more expensive) out of yeshiva and placing them in public school. They make arrangements with the shul rabbi or one of the rabbeim from the local yeshiva to tutor them on weeknights and/or weekends. It isn't happening in droves yet, but I would think within 5-10 years there will be a sizeable number of frum families doing this.

It's a like a snowball effect, right now only the most desperate are willing to put their kids into such a "treif" environment (for the record, I don't believe it's as treif as everyone makes out, but that's another story). But then there will be 2-3 kids, then 5-10, then 15-20, and soon there will be a "chevra" of frum kids in the public school, probably all in the same grade. Parents will see this support group as beneficial and not be as concerned about the environment. The schools will become more accomodating as well as they have to deal with this new demographic.

Vouchers will never happen, the public school system will simply expand to accomodate frum Jews. They're not going to bankrupt their own system to pay for our bankrupt system.

And in terms of fundraising, many larger yeshivas are run quite professionally, you'd be surprised. Certainly the larger MO yeshivas are for the most part. They have several licensed accountants, business managers, etc. I know, I worked in the back office one summer when I was younger. They also have professional fundraisers. The issue is there are too many yeshivas all asking for money, too much division in frumkeit (I'll give to this yeshiva, but not that), and giving to yeshivas is not "sexy". There simply aren't ultra-rich Jews or companies out there willing to give millions of dollars. And those yeshivas who were built with millions in donations don't have endowments.

The cost for yeshiva will just continue to go up. As I wrote earlier, I think the asking price is just to squeeze more money out of those who can either afford to pay or can somehow scrounge up the money from debt or family. Those who can't pay full, can't pay regardless of how high the asking price is. So, as more people can't afford it, the price just keeps going higher to try to balance it all out. Yeshivas are all operating in the red. Even the ones charging $20K+ per child.

I think more and more families will queston the value of a yeshiva tuition when the constant stress and worrying over bills and how they'll put food on the table let alone pay for all the other frum "neccessities" like bar/bat mitzvahs, summer camps, weddings, and support for newly weds.

The system won't suddenly break, but quietly, more and more families will buck the trend until eventually the rabbis, administrators, etc realize we don't have a sustainable way of life.

And in terms of the "wealthy" versus "poor", I think everyone is filling the pinch. The person earning multiple 6 figures is wondering how he can possible pay full tuition (which is what he'll be required to pay), have several children, and provide a lifestyle he feels he deserves for himself and his family for working so hard and going through so many years of school. We can "pooh pooh" the wealthy for wanting a big house, nice car, and to give his kids things he never had, but these are real stresses in someone's life and leads to denigration of torah and a torah lifestyle just as much as someone who doesn't earn so much and is just trying to make ends meet. And we can't afford (literally) to let these people out of the system since they're the one's sustaining it!

Mike S. said...

JS: As one of those who has paid full tuition for 20 years for multiple kids, I have to say that I don't mind sacrificing in other areas for this.

There is two related issues that do trouble me, however. One is when the teachers and administrators make fun of my kids for driving in a 15 year lod car--hey, if I weren't paying their salaries, I'd have a newer car too. The other is when the kids whose lifestyles mine are envious of come from families who are happy to tell me how much aid they are getting. I understand that those who run yeshivot want to provide a yeshivah education for every Jewish child; they don't want kids going to public school because their parents won't make the needed sacrifices. And I know how much tuition and scholarship committees dislike being manipulated by either dishonest parents who lie about income or parents who threaten to take the kids out, while at the same time the committees don't want to take it out on the kids.

And we should want every Jewish child to get a good jewish education. Even those who don't come from frum homes. I do not know what is to be done, other than to emphasize the importance of upright behavior so that the next generation is willing to pay their fair share. We also have to insist that people who plan to have large families going to yeshivah prepare themselves to earn the income that will be required.

Anonymous said...

An alternative to Public High School should be using Public School for lower school and then transfering to Yeshiva for Middle and High School.

At the younger ages they are more wiling to go to after school for Judaic studies, where High Schoolers might have more of a problem with that.

I also have no problem with my youngsters in a mixed classroom, but its more of an issue when they pass puberty.

JS said...

mike s.,

I couldn't agree more. The real problem is parents who busted their butts saving and scrimping, who went to good schools, graduate schools, took on huge amounts of student loans, got good jobs, kill themselves at those jobs to earn a good salary, wait to have kids till they can better afford it, and pay full tuition. While saving and scrimping (and maybe even later when paying full tuition) they drive old cars, don't go to fancy hotels for holidays or on vacations. These people will never, ever get a break from a yeshiva (and God help them if they tried to enjoy their money and didn't save, because the yeshiva will have no pity on people earning so much). And then you have all those families who don't save, don't kill themselves at jobs, buy luxury items and go on spending sprees instead of saving their money, have kids right away, and don't plan at all. So, when it's time to pay tuition, they don't have two pennies to rub together and then go begging the yeshivas for a break - and of course, they get it.

It is inherently unfair that the hard-working family who saves and saves - all of this to pay full tuition while everyone else is essentially subsidized and rewarded for not working hard and being irresponsible.

I understand not everyone can earn 6 figures, not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, or work on wall street (and not all of these people are raking in the dough). But, something is wrong when a family who works hard and does everything right is penalized for that.

This is a problem that not many people look at. Everyone is concerned at the other end of the income sepctrum, when this is also a problem which might be bigger for yeshivas as these families currently pay in full.

aml said...

trailcat: why won't it work? my husband and I have been toying with the idea of starting an online forum to discuss an after-school type program. The public schools end around 2pm. If you "bookend" the Judaics (davening in the morning and school in the afternoon) and you send your kids to a MO high school or even middle school and high school, I can't help but wonder if this could work.

It wouldn't be the most ideal, but it would potentially save parents 6-8 years of tuition. This is $ they can save for Jewish camps, middle/high school and a year in Israel.

The after-school program could also have full day programs during certain federal holidays and summer breaks. If they are affiliated with a synagogue, they could have programming on Shabbat and holidays like some Israeli schools do.

The key would be finding a like-minded chevra of children- enough so that there is a community of families doing this, not just one or two.

Another thought, if you take a group like Kollel Torah M'Tzion and have them teach, they would have the opportunity to do their kollel learning while the kids are in pubic school, and their teaching and programming before and after school.

Mike S. said...

The after school paradigm was common even for Orthodox children into the 1960's in various forms. I myself went to Talmud Torah. In my case this involved 16 hours a week of intense study, but that really wasn't the norm. But overall a great many of the students in such programs left the path of Torah, and the idea has a very bad reputation. I am not sure that anyone has really been able to separate out how much of the assimilation was the result of the schooling paradigm, and how much was of the general social pressure to assimilate during the period when this schooling was common among the frum.

aml said...

Mike, I don't think that was the norm. And I'm tired of hearing the four answers that I hear over and over again here (1) public school, (2) homeschool, (3) alyiah, (4) going broke by tuition... These are decisions that are not far-reaching across the community.

There has to be a better way. We have to be more creative about what we do. The ideal solution, in my mind, would be to have a combination of state-funded secular studies (even having public teachers coming into the Jewish schools) and family/community-funded Judaic studies.

We're not going to get vouchers, not in my lifetime. And if things keep going as they have been we will have a poor charedi system of education churning out another generation of poor and poorly educated kids, wealth MO folks sending their kids to expensive MO schools and no one left in the middle (the loss of the frum middle class?)

Ariella said...

Elementary school tuitions range from about $6000 to $13,000 a year, and that does not include the "add-ons" one of the comments mentioned. So even on the lower end, full tuition for 4 children would amount to $24,000 without the building funds, etc. On the high end, they would top $50,000 a year -- which is still higher, I believe, than the average income (before taxes) in America. High school tuitions here range from about $10,000 to $16,000 a year before add-ons. That is why people who would normally be classed as "affluent" by earning a 6 figure income would still have to request scholarships for their children at yeshiva if they have a number of kids in school.

baruch said...

Ariella - I am not sure what planet your are living on where you can get such dirt cheap tuition - please tell us so we can all sign up. Tuition at TABC, MAAYANOT, FRISCH, Ramaz, SAR, MTA, BEGIN at $19,000 and go all the way up to $25,000.

Elementary schools such as Noam, RYNJ, Yavne have "all in" elementary school tuitions of $15,000 and up - if you don't belive me - just go on their websites - once again please tell the rest of us where to get 4 children educated for a measly $24,000 a year

Zach Kessin said...

Mike, I don't think that was the norm. And I'm tired of hearing the four answers that I hear over and over again here (1) public school, (2) homeschool, (3) alyiah, (4) going broke by tuition... These are decisions that are not far-reaching across the community.

There has to be a better way. We have to be more creative about what we do. The ideal solution, in my mind, would be to have a combination of state-funded secular studies (even having public teachers coming into the Jewish schools) and family/community-funded Judaic studies.

As far as I can tell the 4 options you have listed are the 4 options that exist. If you can think of a 5th that does not require the Magic Money Fairy (TM) to fund it I'm sure a lot of people would love to hear it.

Public funding of Jewish schools in the US Is not going to happen. Sorry I know a lot of people want it to, but even without the church/state issues you will never get the state to spend the money. I also expect that most public school teachers would not put up with the bull that many yeshivot pull. I expect that the first time that a paycheck didn't show up on time they would walk out the door. I know I would.

aml said...

Zach: My solution is the "two school solution". But do it better than its ever been done before. This won't eliminate tuition entirely, but it will mean that a yeshiva is only a yeshiva and nothing more. No science, math, art, PE, language arts, sports programs and so on. Just really stellar Judaics. In my comment above, I talked about bookending the Judaics around the public school day so that the kids start off with it and end with it each day. Parents have to take it as seriously as they do general studies, and we have to be creative about alternative programming to reinforce the Jewish/religious ideals and ideas we wish to give our children.

Someone with more of an understanding of this could add more insight in terms of how much tuition this would actually save, but I can only imagine that keeping up classrooms, a bait madrish, and a Judaics library (and of course the faculty) is a fraction of the cost of having state-of-the-art computer labs, fancy art studios, biology and chemistry labs, and keeping up a library filled with books for every field imaginable.

Yes, the general studies teachers and administrators will loose their jobs. But maybe they are good enough to work at the public/charter schools the children will be attending.

Dave said...

How is your solution not "Public School"?

It's Public School with religious classes wrapping it; exactly what was suggested earlier.

aml said...

it isn't *only* public school. Its two schools. And perhaps the public school portion is a "modified" public school experience like Ben Gamla

Dave said...

The only "modified" part of Ben Gamla that I can see is that it teaches modern Hebrew.

You are still talking about Public School followed by separate religious instruction; this is not a new model.

aml said...

I think it also could possibly provide a chevera for the children, allow them to be in a kosher (literally) environment, have an academic calendar that takes into account the ebbs and flows of the Jewish holidays (maybe no major projects due the week of Pesach), and a general atmosphere of "like mindedness" even amongst non-Jewish students and teachers. Think "organizational culture" and then apply it here. It may sound like something small, but in fact it is these nuiances that can really make the experience different.