Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Circling the Wagons

A few months ago I asked readers to help me by giving me any tuition figures that they knew for specific yeshivas. I was hoping to be able to compare yeshiva costs across a wide number of different yeshivas. I'm throwing my hands in the air on this project and crying uncle. Trying to find out precisely what tuition costs is an exercise in frustration.

For one thing, some yeshivas won't tell you over the phone; they will only discuss the particulars with prospective parents who come to the school offices. For another, a lot of those tuition amounts don't come as rounded figures. A few schools will list "base tuition," but that base tuition gets a lot higher when they start adding on other charges that aren't optional, such as lunch program costs, book costs etc.. Then there is this: I asked a few parents who I knew had children in a particular yeshiva what the tuition cost was. Their answers were different, and yet both believed themselves to be paying full tuition for the same number of children.

I have a friend who is a yeshiva principal so I called to ask what yeshiva tuition was for her school. Her answer? "For whom?" I pushed a little, trying to pin down at least a minimum working amount. No luck. "We look at the individual family" was the basic answer.

An ex-co-worker's husband is an administrator at a yeshiva. I'm stubborn so I called him and asked if he would give me what the target figure was for full tuition. Again, I got one of those answers that is not an answer. Basically he told me it's around $9-14K, depending on the base services to be included and the grade of the student. Huh? He had a little pity on me and said that the formula is not a simple one and takes into consideration a lot of factors, such as how many children in the family, how many in the school, what grades the children are in, what extra educational services are required by a particular child. They also deal with student-based expenses and school-based expenses when figuring out tuition. Also, they look at income and fixed expenses, they look at homes and cars, they check tax returns. And when pushed he admitted that "familial input from other sources" is also figured into the equation--you know, grandparents.

One school that I called asked me why I was interested in the tuition figures. I told the truth--I was looking to write an article about yeshiva tuition. They hung up on me before I could finish my sentence.

So here's the thing, trying to get information directly from the schools only results in their circling the wagons to keep anyone from knowing what is really going on. Parents don't seem to be a good source of information because many of them don't really know if the tuition they are paying is the same as other parents in their school are paying. And there is also this: tuition, or at least the bottom line for parents, includes within it a lot of charges that aren't precisely tuition-related but are school related, such as the charge for lice checks and mandated health record keeping.

So no, I couldn't gather sufficient information nor accurate enough information to be able to report anything of worth to my readers. But this exercise in futility did raise some questions for me. Why, of all things, should tuition be 1)so complex and complicated and 2) such a secret? And once again it comes down to accountability. Just who are the yeshivas accountable to? Who looks at the monies expended and the monies collected and says yea or nay?

Just an interesting side note: One yeshiva I contacted I asked what the salaries were for the limudei kodesh teachers and the secular studies teachers (this was an elementary school). Basically I was told that unless I'm applying for a job, and then only when I'm actually sitting with them interviewing, the figures were none of my business.

11 comments:

N said...

My former school charged fees relative to what they felt people were capable of paying, and didn't even enforce payments, and it was so easy to beat the system, a couple of families claimed they couldn't afford to pay, yet went on holidays all the time. But they wouldn't reveal what people were paying...

Juggling Frogs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archie Bunker said...

Just an interesting side note: One yeshiva I contacted I asked what the salaries were for the limudei kodesh teachers and the secular studies teachers (this was an elementary school). Basically I was told that unless I'm applying for a job, and then only when I'm actually sitting with them interviewing, the figures were none of my business.

That seems like a pretty standard attitude for most non government jobs.My firm would just hang up if someone called to ask how much they pay their employees and they definitely wouldn't discuss service charges with someone they don't know over the phone if that person isn't considering using our services.

By the same token if you agree to pay full tuition schools won't give a hard time about any financial issue.

Rae said...

Didn't want to puncture your balloon back then but I could have told you that getting true and exact info on tuition was going to be knocking your head against a wall.

One of my kids was going to be moving back to our neighborhood. She asked me to check out yeshiva tuition. Even with telling the school I was calling for someone who would be moving in they basically said the parents would have to come down and discuss the tuition with the school because "tuition has individual elements to it."

JS said...

Not surprising at all. I tried doing some research at the time to get you some data, but hit a huge brick wall from everywhere other than the few schools that put the price on their website.

I don't understand how these schools operate. How do you possibly budget without a fixed price? Do they just sit and guesstimate what the total collection will be? How do they possibly ensure fairness between families?

But, this really blows my mind: "I asked a few parents who I knew had children in a particular yeshiva what the tuition cost was. Their answers were different, and yet both believed themselves to be paying full tuition for the same number of children."

Neither family asked for tuition assistance? How are the numbers different if neither family asked for help?

Does that mean that the school finds out I make $300k a year and I don't ask for a break my price will be higher than my neighbor who makes $80k and also doesn't ask for a break? What the heck?!

ProfK said...

JS,
Not going to swear to it because this is what the parents told me; however, it's a really well known fact in the community that family A, paying full tuition with no scholarship assistance is feeling financially pinched (just like everyone else) and family B, the two parents are making a high 6 figure income (he's a partner in a major law firm and she's an assistant vice president at a major bank), never mind the wife comes from serious money. And yeah, family B is paying more in tuition than family A is.

Gives new meaning to full tuition.

G6 said...

Any organization that requires people to disclose their tax returns and justify financial decisions should, in turn, offer the same reciprocally.
After all what's good for the goose....

There seems to be a "black wall of silence"...

Great post.

Mike S. said...

I have sent my kids to 4 different day schools,4 colleges and two Israel programs. All of these published tuition rates (and all of which offer various discounts and or scholarships). And all but one of the day schools published what the total scholarship budget and the fraction of the student body receiving some form of discount were. (Of course, individual amounts were not disclosed) The tuition schedules did sometimes depend on grade, but they were always published. Is this a New York mishegas?

Orthonomics said...

I think not publishing tuition schedules is something not normally encountered outside of the NJ region.

That said, elements resonate with me. E.g. a friend of mine was handed a tuition schedule for her child and told that tuition was non-negotiable and that they would not be receiving a scholarship. They are likely far more strapped than families who are getting scholarships.

Not long ago I was writing about the economics of education. I think this post plays well into those posts.

Anonymous said...

Things will only change when those who pay say enough is enough and demand an end to this crazy system. Those who dont' pay full aren't complaining (since they are subsidized). When full tuition payers have had enough, we'll see change.

Until then, enjoy the subsidizing.

Anonymous said...

It is incredible that one kind of customers (full tuition paying parents) are ok with subsidizing other paying customers.

Only in JEWISH America...