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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Giving Tree

A few years ago, I ran into an article that I can no longer locate, where a principal of a Modern Orthodox school suggested grandparents help out the schools with growing budget gaps by paying for their own grandchildren's tuition. I wish I could have been in the room to ask him: haven't grandparents done enough already and where does this all end? The article I linked to in the previous post also made the underlying assumption that grandparents have what to give and should continue to just give freely, especially when times are tough (Anyone wonder if perhaps times are tough for older generations too? Layoffs only affect young people? A fall in retirement account value only affects younger people?).

But why assume that grandparents can continue to give and give and give and give? And if it takes two (or three) generations to support one, what happens next?

The average modern Orthodox grandparent probably has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put their children through day school, tens of thousands more for the yeshiva/seminary year, hundreds of thousands of dollars to put their children through college and perhaps grad school, and helped set them up with some starter funds. How much more should does the principal think they should be paying each year?

Let's do a little math. A set of grandparents with 4 adult children and 16 grandchildren has a yearly tuition bill that totals somewhere between $160,000 and $320,000 (assumption: average tuition for K-12 is between $10,000 and $20,000). What amount would the principal suggest is reasonable? Even a very generous contribution to tuition of $20,000 is "only" $1,250 per grandchild. A more significant per grandchild contribution of $3,000 for 16 grandkids would come to a massive yearly tuition contribution 'bill' of $48,000.

My understanding is that grandparents are already contributing to their grandchildren's tuition, often quite significantly. A commentor asked about the thinking coming out of modern Orthodox circles regarding how to meet the widening budget gap. I haven't been able to find much, but the main things I'm hearing about are more fundraising and getting grandparents to help more. But in a down economy, how much is left to help? And what kind of monster is in the living room if it takes at least two generations to support one?


Margaret said...

It's your token gentile again.

I find this fascinating, because I was raised with the implicit assumption that I will care for my parents as they age. They paid for my private high school and college, so I give back. My brother doesn't have the same expectations for various reasons. I was taught, though, that it is the children's job to support the parents in their old age after the parents have scraped and sacrificed for years with their own children.

SuperRaizy said...

Margaret's comment makes me feel ashamed to be part of the Orthodox community. She's absolutely right- we should not be squeezing our parents for more and more money as they age. What kind of kibud av is that?

Anonymous said...

Typically, around Christmas time, Yeshivot hold a visiting day to showcase the respective schools to the grandparents in order to receive donations. One year the Director of Development at my son's school was so "over the top" in their nudging that my parents and inlaws were left with a horrible impression. Did the school not think that these same people were already donating to the school via the financial support provided directly to us? I am sure this was the case with others as well.

Anonymous said...

And we are required to put the grandparents' names and addresses on all school applications (don't know what would happen if we didn't...), so that they can be solicited at every opportunity.

SuperRaizy said...

Anonymous 10:17:
Last year, my daughter's school sent home a form asking for the grandparents' contact info so that they can be "included in school simchas". I filled in my mother's name and address, thinking that they would send her an invitation to the Chanukah play or something. Instead, they sent her a card with a small picture of my daughter which said "I love my Grandma" and asked for a donation. My mother was annoyed and I was so embarrassed. This year, I specifically told them not to contact my mother for any reason.

Saver said...

"And if it takes two (or three) generations to support one, what happens next?"

In theory, people accumulate wealth throughout their lives so older people have more of it. The would mean that it's not as stark as you make it sound, since as this generation ages it will be the owner of accumulated wealth. Unfortunately, this generation is uber-materialistic, has very high "Jewish bills," and has an amazingly low saving rate, so it's not clear at all that that will be the case.

anonymousmom said...

"A commentor asked about the thinking coming out of modern Orthodox circles regarding how to meet the widening budget gap. I haven't been able to find much"

As I commented earlier, one thing they are doing is working together with other schools to address the problem. This is a huge challenge that will require deliberate, communal change. I don't think the boards at MO schools are talking grandparents anymore. We all see that even in the best of situations, the economic downturn has hit the upper levels and Safta and Saba will be squeezed for cash. Do we have an MO administrator or board member out there willing to talk about what is being thrown around?

Bethami said...

Lurker here coming out of the shadows.
What happens when there are no grandparents? Parents are getting older and older, especially in MO circles where women are giving more time to careers. Or when the grandparents have little to do with family, for reasons of various family politics, including the parents possibly being baalei teshuva (very common!). when they ask for the grandparents address, what happens when those parents put down N/A? Does this happen at often? Does the school have a contingency plan for this?

Lion of Zion said...


i just brought in the registration form for next year and on this i refused to fill out the sections where they ask for grandparents' information.

i did put my parents' (but not my mother-in-law's) information on emergency contact cards, but i would throw such a stink if they used emergency info for solicitations.

Lion of Zion said...


"Does the school have a contingency plan for this?"

raise tuition for those who pay it.

Dave in DC said...

Let's call the strategy of relying on the grandparents what it really is: a Ponzi scheme. I know that's a particularly loaded term these days, but nonetheless, if the current generation can't self-fund it's own childrens' tuition, then relying on the past generation works for exactly one go-around... Today's lifestyle paupers will not be able to fund their retirements, let alone their grandchildrens' education.

SephardiLady said...

Saver-In theory. . . . . .watch for a post on my theory for those paying tuition.

Elitzur said...

B"H, my kids have three loving grandparents and a loving step-grandparent alive and well along with a couple of great-granparents. But in the 5+ years I have been sending kids to school (3 schools) I have never filled in any grandparent information though each have asked for such it. I pay what the school asks of me there's no need to call anyone else...

JS said...

I wonder what people would do if they couldn't afford tuition (or what the school asks them to contribute) on their own.

Would they:
1) Not send to yeshiva
2) Ask grandparents
3) Only pay what they can

Personally, I couldn't imagine asking my parents or in-laws to help pay tuition for their grandchildren. But, I suppose it becomes more difficult when you simply can't afford it on your own.

BrooklynWolf said...

Just to play devil's advocate here: We all agree that yeshivos need to come up with alternate means of financing. If so, how can you fault them for reaching out to someone who might be a potential donor (i.e. grandparents).

I'm not suggesting (as the principle in the SephardiLady's post did) that grandparents be "hit up" for their grandkids tuition, but what is wrong with asking for a donation request?

The Wolf

JS said...

Regardless though, yeshivas relying on grandparents is just more of the same - lousy, short-term solutions to serious problems inherent in the entire communal model of yeshiva education.

JS said...

America's most frugal family:

SephardiLady said...

Wolf-I support the idea of asking every single non-tuition paying community member to contribute to local schools. So in essence, I see no issue asking grandparents for an additional donation, so long as it isn't done in a way that is high pressure.

You and I both now that generation 2 (that's us) doesn't save/make/have enough to be self-sustaining and will simply not be able to continue this pattern, and therefore the system is under tremendous pressure. Add to that a growing recession and the problem is immense because now generation 1's extra money (real or available through debt) is shrinnking.

AnonYMous said...

I'm getting very tired of this line of thinking.

I'll tell you why. One set of my grandparents were holocaust survivors. The other survived the Depression. They had NOTHING. Their friends had NOTHING. And yet, they managed to build Jewish schools for their children. They killed themselves to do so. Worked very long hours and gave to the schools in money and body for years to perpetuate the Jewish community.

After their kids graduated these schools my grandparents were still not rich. But they continued to kill themselves for these schools. They invested their blood, sweat and tears to make sure there would be a day school for the children of their community.

Look at the difference between the comments here and them.

I hear a bunch of whining. How can this go on? Tuition is so high!!! What will be, what will be? The schools are asking my parents! The chutzpah! I'm going to just educate my own kids and forget about everyone else. Whine, whine, kvetch, kvetch. The hands are wrung, we purse our lips in self-righteous disapproval and continue to blog and comment.

How about stepping up to the plate and solving the problem? There is no easy solution to something this valuable. The solution is elbow grease, hard work and lots of self-sacrifice.

You think the schools should coordinate buying to get better deals. Spend the time you do on blogs making calls and organizing it. Schools need to raise money. Figure out a fundraiser and do it. Every PENNY counts. Tell your kids you are cutting back on one thing and contributing to Jewish education. If you are single, or a grandparent, or have no kids shouldn't make a difference. GET INVOLVED.

My grandparents didn't care that they had no kids in the schools in their community. They didn't care that the principal made mistakes and that the board wasn't perfect. They gave and they worked.

What happened to the next generations? Why can't we be as communally minded and open to pitching in? Why do we demand that it is each man for himself yet expect Rabbis and Administrators to solve the community's problem? It's time to start acting like adults.

As a collective gasp of indignation goes out over the blogosphere I ask you, do you have so much harder than the Holocaust survivors and those who survived the Depression who had nothing? Or perhaps can WE be solving this "crisis" by just acting like they did.

Finally, lets keep in mind that there is a G-d. The Jewish people aren't going away so fast. He'll help out if we just start acting like we will do our part.

Anonymous said...


While I agree with your general tone, there are probably a lot of reasons why tuition takes a bigger bite out of current salaries than in did a couple of generations ago, ranging from parent expectations to legal requirements to higher salaries (deservedly so). It's tough to compare, but, I agree, the older generations lived much more frugally and didn't look for luxuries that we take for granted. My parents didn't get a color TV until about 1984, and they drove 16 and 18 year old cars.

One difference I don't think you're considering is family size -- many people in the older generations had fewer children. They may not have had the health to have larger families. Tuition for 6 children is tougher than tuition for 3 children.

Anonymous said...

I am a grandparent who helps with tuition and I am also still a tuition paying parent (keneinahora). I think that the reason that schools want help from grandparents is that they see that grandparents often spring for other high-ticket items for their married offspring. If a child is coming to school in expensive clothes financed by Bubby, it is only natural for them to assume that Bubby has money to burn. If she is going to throw the money away at the mall, she might as well do some good with it. It is we the grandparents who raised our children to marry while young, have large families, and give their children a day school education. We who made the decision to send our children out into the world with insufficient ways to earn income should be responsible to whatever degree possible.
The next generation will have to assess how they will prepare their children financially for life after marriage because of the economic situation in the world they now live in.

anon said...

The halacha dictates that a person give tzedaka to family first. Schools are protecting communal funds by first seeking tzedaka money from those who are obligated in giving tzedaka to those people on whose behalf they are collecting. I would think that it is a wise policy as well as halachically advisable to first approach grandparents.

However, focusing on the grandparents responsibility continues to perpetuate the myth that Jewish education is a personal and familial issue. It is a communal issue. How do we change the cultural mindset that we all have to be moser nefesh so that there is a next generation of Torah Jews?

Anonymous said... anyone here reading the papers? listening to the news? watching their ira's and retirement funds diminish by at least 1/3...that is before bernie madoff made off with everyone's money. are you sure that bubby and zaddy have enough money to live on before you ask them to pay for your children's education. they might be coming to you for help.

rosie said...

While it would be ideal if every Jew felt responsible for the chinuch of the next generation, I doubt that the parents in California are donating much to yeshivas in New Jersey or Monsey. If I am going to donate to yeshivas, would I donate first to yeshivas that are educating my children and grandchildren? If I send my children to a type of yeshiva, let's say Chabad, am I going to give an equal contribution to a litvish, MO, or other chassidishe yeshiva? If my phone rings constantly to buy raffles from yeshivas or I get stuff sent in the mail, how many of them am I obligated to donate to?
Suppose a certain population of children, be it special needs, or a particular sect is not being served by the schools in my community? It will have to be their families who bring that to the attention of oblivious people.

Anonymous said...

Did you all hear what our commander in chief said today about bailing out the auto industry?

"I'm also worried about putting good money after bad."

Simple quote yet dead on!

Why should we continue to blindly fund failing models?

We have chinuch obligations but we need to be smart about it.

We need to quit whining, demand transparency, and get involved without putting good money and elbow grease after bad models.

Anonymous said...

Did you all hear what our commander in chief said today about bailing out the auto industry?

"I'm also worried about putting good money after bad."

Simple quote yet dead on!

Why should we continue to blindly fund failing models?

We have chinuch obligations but we need to be smart about it.

We need to quit whining, demand transparency, and get involved without putting good money and elbow grease after bad models.

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous above-I posted the stop whining post as its own post. So, I will move my comments up there after this one. But in short, I agree with you that we needd to quit whining. But until there is transparency, throwing last year's fundraiser this year isn't the answer.

aml said...

Margaret- I'm a convert to Judaism and this is the notion I grew up with too... interesting, isn't it?