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Friday, February 13, 2009

Guest Post: A suggestion for parents struggling to pay yeshiva tuition.

I figured I would present one reader's way of working out tuition with their children's school. I know that not one school in my on area would agree to this method. Read on and leave your comments. Nonetheless, I always love hearing the experiences of those who have found their own personal solutions.

When my first child started school a number of years ago I sat down with the executive director and had a discussion about what I could afford to pay. My wife and I both work for large non-jewish companies and our complete annual earnings are directly reflected in our W-2's.

I showed him what I make and offered to pay a percentage of our net income. He was more then happy to accept it. It was not the full tuition, but was a relatively large portion. 5 years later and with more children in yeshivos I am still using this method. It has worked in different yeshivos as needed.

One of the biggest challenges the yeshivos face is the inability to adequately gauge an individuals ability to pay vs their willingness to pay. There are still many out there who believe that vacations, pesach in a hotel and 2 leased cars come before paying full tuition. In addition, many work for themselves or work "off the books" and come up with ridiculius numbers of what they actually really earn.

If you are willing to come forward with a fair solution and are willing to be completely open and honest, yeshivos will act in kind.

When the debate centers around what is a fair price
to charge you will never find an answer


tesyaa said...

My initial reaction, which hasn't changed, is "ha ha." (Not c"v personally addressed to the commenter.) I truly don't believe most yeshivas are going to negotiate, especially if more than one or two families try this tactic.

What I have heard reliably -- from both parents and administration -- is that for a family that is in a bind due to factors beyond its control, such as job loss, health problems -- the schools are more than willing to work out a payment plan. They don't like it when families just stop paying, but even if they are paying a relatively small amount each month, the yeshivas are willing to work with them.

Dave said...

Given the apparent(*) endemic income fraud in parts of the frum community, I don't see how this would work.

If people are hiding their income (including from the Yeshivas) as a matter of course, then income based percentages don't scale.

(*) I say apparent given the frequency with which it either appears, or I've seen people explain that they work "on the books" and therefore only make what their income shows, and describe having to explain that.

SephardiLady said...

tesyaa-Me too. In fact a number of my friends have been told up front on their yeshiva tours not to expect any discount.

Ariella said...

I have heard of yeshivos who initially offered the flat percentage but had to rescind it when they saw how they were losing out on the deal. Think about this, an average elementary tuition (not the cheapest of the Chasidic schools nor the most of expense on the more modern end of the spectrum, and high school tuitions tend to be higher) is somewhere around 10K per child. Even the schools with a base tuition that appears lower add on various other fees and funds, so that it still comes to about that. So what if a family has 4 children in school and has an income of $75,000 (before taxes). If they are allowed to pay 20% of their income then the schools would only get $15,000 for 4 children, which comes to under $4000 per child -- a discount of over 60% off the base tuition. While 20% of income would make sense for the parents, from the school's point of view, that amount is inadequate.

Dave said...

I remain convinced that this is the wrong way to do things.

The expenses of an education are not dependent upon the parents' ability to pay. The cost is the cost.

This mechanism hides that cost, which arguably makes it worse. A flat income percentage limits my incentives to increase the school's revenue (by making more money), and removes any cost-based disincentives to increasing the school's expenses (by having larger families).

I think the answer, if any, lies in the opposite direction. Set the price based on the actual costs, and have a separate organization to do needs-based financial aid as you can.

SephardiLady said...

Unless a set of parents is bound to make extremely high amounts of money, the joke is on the school. I can't believe any director would agree to this.

Dave-Vis a vis a percentage of income and the way things seem to be done in other areas, a percentage doesn't completely strip a parent of the incentive to earn more. What I know strips the parent of the inceentive is when a parent gets a promotion and their entire extra income (and sometimes more) is eaten by tuition they were not paying because of scholarship.

Nevertheless, the inconsistent policies cause a tremendous amount of discontent and make me think your solution of a flat tuition and a separate committee to deal with raising money for scholarships is a better solution, even if not perfect.

Ezzie said...

Set the price based on the actual costs

Hear, hear. A number of people (including myself, and I was pitching this to a number of people recently) have been saying the same.

When I was discussing with one sis-in-law, she mentioned that at least one school in LA already does this, and so far it's working out nicely.

Commenter Abbi said...

Ezzie- thanks for using "Hear, hear!" correctly (I've seen it way too many times as "Here, here!").

ProfK said...

Perhaps smaller communities have more control. Years back members of the community were incensed that people in cash businesses and off the books were taking school and camp scholarships when they could have afforded to pay. Neighbors all knew when someone bought a new car or two, had regular cleaning help, took vacations and where and remodeled or bought large ticket items for the home.

Our answer was to 1)put community members on the tuition committee and 2)to develop a comprehensive form for applying for tuition assistance. W2s are required. When not available the form asks all the nitpicking questions about expenditures. The local schools are not cheap but they are consistent in who can get assistance and who can't. And yes, we have a flat fee. Those who can't pay it take their chances with the assistance committee, and they had better be straight when they get there.

Chaim said...

I want to restate an idea that I think needs to be implemented.

People must refuse to donate AND refuse to send their children to any school that does not A) have REAL Board oversight and B) does not publish its 990 form.

Dave said...

One of the constant issues that seems to come up is schools, dependent on funding from working adults, who spend many hours indoctrinating children that work is to be avoided, and lifetime learning is the goal.

I would add to your proposal the notion that if you are donating to or sending your children to a school which teaches this doctrine, you are causing the problem.

tesyaa said...

Dave, not sure if you understand that even if a school does not espouse this "doctrine" (or does not take a stand one way or another), it's quite possible that individual teachers are doing so.

You can say "don't support a school that hires such teachers", but I don't think that even the most modern school is free of such teachers. It's also an attitude as much as actual words.

We choose schools based on many factors, and for most people it's probably impossible to find a school that matches each and every stance the parents hold.

You tend to view the Orthodox world as black and white, and, as I've said in the past in response to your posts, it is less monolithic than you imagine. I am sure you think you know more about the Orthodox world than you do.

Dave said...

We choose schools based on many factors, and for most people it's probably impossible to find a school that matches each and every stance the parents hold.

I'd go further. I'd say it is entirely impossible.

But by the same token, not every stance is equal. Some issues are more important than others.

I am sure you think you know more about the Orthodox world than you do.

No, I'm pretty clear that I'm an outsider looking in. All I have to go on is an outsider's perspective, with all the inaccuracies and missed nuance that that entails.

On the other hand, I do also personally tend towards direct solutions, and I suspect some of that also shows here.

ProfK said...

"But by the same token, not every stance is equal. Some issues are more important than others." That is an opinion statement, not one of fact. And different people will place difference emphasis on the issues that are important to them. You cannot get 200 people to all agree on every dish served at a 6-course meal as to the taste, texture,necessity and palatability. You cannot get them to agree 100% on the ingredients necessary for that meal, to rank those ingredients in order of importance, and yet you assume that such congruence is possible when discussing schools? This is where theory and practice meet and they don't mesh well in lots of cases.

Ezzie said...

Abbi - I know. I always start thinking I'm playing football and I have a WR wide open downfield... :)

ProfK - There's no reason larger communities can't have just as much control. People still know... and again, if you don't want people making judgments, then have a set tuition across the board that is only able to be lowered in dire circumstances where a person is showing ALL their financial information from a period of time.

Dave said...


No, I don't expect everyone to agree. In fact, I expect everyone's rankings to vary.

However, tell me what you do, and I'll tell you what you value. If you send your children to a school that teaches that work is to be avoided if at all possible in favor of lifetime learning, then I know you either agree with that, or there are other things they do/teach that you think are more important than that issue.

As an example, it was not at all uncommon a generation or two ago (but still post Vatican II) for secular Jews in urban environments to send their children to Catholic Schools. The quality of the education was considered more important than any religious indoctrination that might occur.

Still, I stand by my earlier statement. If you are sending your children to schools which teach that work is a poor second choice to lifetime learning, you are part of the problem. It may be the best of a set of bad options, but that does not mean that you are not contributing to the problem; it may just mean that you had no better options.

Life isn't perfect. We all end up picking from a set of imperfect choices. What we value determines where we rank those choices.

Dave said...

((I should note that my last comment assumes that the cultural shift to lifetime learning as the ideal with deprecation of working people is a negative. Obviously, those who think it is a positive don't consider it a problem at all.))

tesyaa said...

Dave, you keep talking like it's black and white. I don't know of any school whose mission statement is "work is bad and to be avoided." Many / most Jewish schools effectively have the mission statement that "Torah takes precedence over all." That's a far cry from the first example, and it can obviously be interpreted many different ways. The primacy of Torah does not exclude working for a living.

Yes, I have heard of seminaries preaching that the kollel way is the only way; I have heard of people being told not to leave yeshiva to go to work or college. But that is one extreme, just the way a coed yeshiva high school pushing Ivy League schools for its graduates is another extreme, in the Orthodox world. There is A LOT in between.

Dave said...

I'm not trying to imply that the schools are that blatant, and I'm sorry if it is coming across that way. But there is also a limit as to how subtle it can be, because at a certain point, no one would notice, and then no one would care.

As you pointed out, that mission statement is quite vague. Again, my question would be, what do they do? Are they discouraging working, and if so, to what degree? If it is an individual teacher doing it, and a parent complains, what is the school's reaction? How does the school treat working versus learning parents? There is certainly an enormous spectrum of potential behavior here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have heard of seminaries preaching that the kollel way is the only way; I have heard of people being told not to leave yeshiva to go to work or college. But that is one extreme, just the way a coed yeshiva high school pushing Ivy League schools for its graduates is another extreme, in the Orthodox world.

But this isn't really a proper comparison. Some of the coed yeshiva high schools (say Flatbush or Ramaz, for example) push their best and brightest students towards an Ivy League education. But many of the Charedi yeshivas are pushing all (or at least 90%) of their students towards full time learning. If they (the Charedim) only pushed their best and brightest students towards lifetime learning, nobody would be discussing it, and the Jewish world would be a much better place. Not only that, but the level of study of Torah would reach unheard of heights because of the focus of the best and brightest!


JS said...

But that is one extreme, just the way a coed yeshiva high school pushing Ivy League schools for its graduates is another extreme, in the Orthodox world.

This is an extreme position? Are you serious? Since when are boys and girls sitting in the same classrooms and talking to each other while being encouraged to attend the most prestigious universities in the country an extreme position?

Anonymous said...

I was the one who wrote this comment. I think several things need to be understood. I was commenting, not writing an article so I did not articulate these further before.

1) Schools need to have a published tuition number, otherwise they would have a hard time collecting anything, but everything is negotiable. Whether you agree with that policy or not. I have spoken with many of my friends, in different cities across NA and many have negotiated with their schools.

2)Any executive director would preferr "guaranteed income" without having to chase anyone for the money then chasing down individuals for money. As long as there is not a huge discrepancy in the actual amount being paid. In addition, the amount increase annually as my income increases.

3) The school must be convinced that you are being asbolutely honest with them about your income. Unfortunately, this is too often no the case. I believe that the schools that I deal with are more amenable to delaing with me because I do not go away for the summer, do not lease 2 cars, do not go away for pesach, do not go on vacations other then a brief get away with my wife, usually paid with cc points.

The key is that a took a proactive approach to reaching a long term solution with the schools I deal with. This may not be a solution for everyone, but I do know for a fact that I have suggested this to friends of mine who fit the criteria and it has worked with a great deal of success (10+ different families that i can think of).

Fair or not, my goal is to pay as much tuition as I can possibly pay for all of my children to attend yeshiva. I work with my children's schools to ensure that they understand this and we are on the same page.

I have said this before and will say it again. If you are unable to work with your children's schools as a team and you do not believe your goals are the same, consider switching schools. Move if you have to.

Commenter Abbi said...

I also did a doubletake on that sentence.

The Jewish world is in a sad state when being encouraged to get a great education is "extreme".

tesyaa- no there aren't any schools with that blatant mission statement, but it's clear there exist schools with this mentality and it's also clear that many families with working parents keep sending their kids to such schools. (and I include one year yeshiva programs in this group too. For heaven's sake, stop sending your kids to programs that brainwash them so they don't go to college and get jobs!).

There are working parents who feel they want this heimish frum atmosphere for their kids. But when you're kids look at you and wonder why they have to work, at what price was this "frum atmosphere" bought?

tesyaa said...

Oh, for heavens sake, I'm not anti Ivy League, having applied to a few myself, got into one, and graduated from a Seven Sisters school.

But isn't it true that coed secondary education (and Ivy League attendance) are at one end of today's Orthodox spectrum? Like it or not. That's what I meant by "extreme".

Charnie said...

Getting back to the original topic of this post, I do think this person had a wise approach. Particularly in view of his point about all those who are self-employed and/or working "off the books". Likely there was more to this story then just what's quoted here. Like perhaps the parents offered to give of their time, serving on committees, assisting with fund raising efforts, etc.

The tuition process isn't pretty, and there are no immediate solutions, but for many of us it's virtually unavoidable. Frankly, I'd hate to have a yeshiva administrator's job, because they're on the phone all day trying to get parents to pay money that was promised.

Someday a formula will be invented that actually reflects factors such as net income, size of family, expenses of both the school and parents. Any actuaries out there want to take the results of Ezzie's survey and try to crunch it out?

Ezzie said...

Charnie - First we need more people to take it. :)