Thursday, May 8, 2008

What if There is No Real Solution Right Now?

Tuition for yeshivot seems to be on a lot of people's minds right now, all kinds of people. Young parents who have their children in school are complaining. Older people, grandparents, are being asked to help pay for yeshiva tuition for their grandchildren and are complaining. Singles who see the future coming down the road and see huge financial burdens as part of that future are complaining. Teachers are complaining they don't make a living wage. Principals are complaining that they can't cover their bills.

Suggestions are thrown out on how to alleviate the financial crunch but there is no agreement that those suggestions will make any appreciable difference or the suggestions are unacceptable to large groups of people. Large groups of people who won't put their children into public school under any circumstances. People who recommend home schooling with no outside assistance. People who want home schooling but with hired help to teach what they can't. People who say let small groups of parents band together and home school together to share expertise and reduce costs (sounds like they are just starting another yeshiva to me.) Parents who have the money to pay the tuition and won't join together with those who don't to force schools to look for ways to lower tuition. People who are getting tuition reductions because they look poor on paper but have lots more discretionary cash they could use but don't/won't. People who are ready to pull their children out of yeshiva because they can't afford the price, and the pressure to produce income they simply can't produce is destroying them. People who are having to make decisions that say "You can have X or you can have Y but you can't have both." Lots of people complaining.

Here is a thought: what if there is no answer to the tuition crunch right now? What if the schools are actually charging what it costs them? What if the costs are legitimate? What then? What if the only choice we have right now is no choice? What if there is no solution that will make a major difference? What if the most that could be reduced would be $1000 per child on the tuition? Or $2000? (A savings but not an answer to the larger question.) What if the cost of tuition is going to have to be the central economic fact that we have to organize our lives around? In short, what if what we see as a problem that must have a solution somewhere doesn't have that solution anywhere?

Our first step must be to determine if all aspects of the tuition problem are true as we have been told they are. Yes, there must be transparency on the part of schools. But what if any cutting down on the part of the yeshivas won't result in a real savings for parents? Yes, we must determine if all parents in a school are really entitled to the tuition reductions they receive. But what if, after we have done everything to determine the true state of finances in a yeshiva, there is no relief that is available?

And then,too, we have to look at parents and their expenditures and income. Are they doing everything they can so they can pay the full tuition? Is it that some parents can't cut down on their personal spending or that they won't cut down?

And yes, there is a really thorny issue that must be addressed as well. Give a rosh yeshiva or a menahel the following scenario: You can have men sitting and learning and not earning a parnoseh while still in their twenties while getting them married off young so they are starting families while still learning and relying on only the one salary that their wives produce, which will result in that young man's family not being able to pay tuition or pay only a minimal amount, which will result in a financial crisis for your yeshiva ketanas and high schools, which will result in students not being sent to yeshiva because there is no money anywhere to pay for that privilege which will result later on in having less bochrim and young marrieds sitting and learning, OR you can rethink how long and for whom learning in bais medrash is affordable for. You can rethink letting boys get married when they will not be producing parnoseh for years after they do so. You can rethink what the balance may have to be between learning and earning. You may have to rethink the importance of a secular education when it comes to college and the clear knowledge that those who are college educated make more money then those who are not. And those who excel in college do better than those who do not, but excelling means spending lots of time on secular studies.

What if the answer to the tuition problem lies somewhere other than in the yeshivas themselves? What if there are other factors causing the tuition crisis? What if two things we hold dear are in conflict? Frankly, this makes Shlomo HaMelech's quandary over the mothers and the child look petty by comparison. What if those who could solve some of the tuition problem won't do so because it would mean losing part of something else they value more?

Hard questions, mostly with no answers. Maybe we are just going to have to bite the bullet when it comes to tuition. Maybe there really is no solution that will do anything more than put a bandaid on a gushing wound.

But first, find out if all the facts as we think we know them are true.


G said...

What if those who could solve some of the tuition problem won't do so because it would mean losing part of something else they value more?

Bingo!'s a sad commentary.

Anonymous said...

History sometimes repeats itself.

In 'heilige' Europe, years ago, how many people, younger and older, got such a long and extensive limudei kodesh education as they do today? Not that many. Perhaps the children of the elite and the extremely talented and promising. Many/most entered the workforce at a young age.

The recent situation has been a blessed exception to the recent past, an 'eis rotzon' after the churban, to allow rebuilding. But as you write, there are signs of slippage and reversion.

May we do the right thing, and biezras Hashem, Hakodosh boruch Hu will help us.

Leora said...

How viable are tuition vouchers? You don't mention the political angle in your list of methods of tuition reduction.

In France, Canada and Belgium Yeshiva tuition is cheaper because the government pays for the secular (don't ask me the details, I just know the basics).

But this does mean government mingling and our losing control, which the wealthier Jews definitely don't want.

But I thought I'd throw tuition vouchers into the discussion.

Dave said...

Tuition Vouchers, if they ever do happen, are going to come with very very strong government controls on what is taught.

Anonymous said...


But that worked best when the communities were closed and people would, willy-nilly, be immersed in an overwhelmingly Jewish society for the rest of their lives. And even those without an intensive education were able to and expected to at least review parsha with Rashi, so some level of learning continued.

And huge numbers, both of those who had barely (if that) finished cheder and among the Yeshivah educated abandoned observance as soon as it became socially possible to do so, first in Western and then in Eastern Europe, by moving to America. In the Sephardic world and Among the Eidot HaMizrach, complete abandonment of Torah was less common, but careful observance declined dramatically in those communities as well.

Both Chareidi and MO approaches (as they are called today) are reactions to this phenomenon, and both rely on longer periods of classroom learning than was usual in Europe. And even with that, neither approach (to judge by the overwhelming number of Jews who are not observant of mitzvot) has been completely successful.

concernedjewgirl said...

"And then,too, we have to look at parents and their expenditures and income. Are they doing everything they can so they can pay the full tuition? Is it that some parents can't cut down on their personal spending or that they won't cut down?"

Ahhhhhhhh....That tis the question!

When a person has unlimited resources how they spend their money is of no concern. When a person has limited resources over spending is a big problem.
A lot of people think they spend wisely, but those are the ones that complain that pre-packaged salads now cost $1.00 more per pound or per bag. That is not wise. Reducing expenses where possible is the key...maybe not to solving the tuition problem but at least it would be something. If a person saves $50 a month on something they don't need, that is $600 a year! That is a huge amount of money...not a tuition payment but it could go for a car payment, it could go into savings, so many more useful places then padding the pocket of the Big Box companies.

ProfK said...

I purposefully left off school vouchers because right now, in the US, it is pretty much a dead issue politically. It raises its head every few years and goes nowhere. One of the reasons was given by a few commenters: stringent government oversight and mingling into the affairs of the yeshivot. The chasidishe yeshivas are pretty much unanimous in being against vouchers. The major rabbinic organizations have waffled around the issue. The "major" yeshivot aren't looking for the oversight but would be in favor if the money came no strings attached. If, in a city like New York City, you cannot get all those in the various private school systems, a huge number here, to come out unanimously in favor of school vouchers, cannot get them to push politically, then what chance is there where private school desirers are a small minority? Right now school vouchers is not a viable answer to the tuition problem.

Re the Europeans, first of all, education past 6th grade was an exception for all members of a community, not just the Jews. Most of the western European countries had some sort of compulsory education up to 6th grade; most of the eastern European countries did not. Going to work early was the societal norm everywhere.

As was mentioned, those who stayed in yeshiva were either the top learners, whom the community supported to learn if the parents couldn't, or a few of the sons of the wealthy class. But even there, learning ended early. My grandfather was not unusual in that he had the then equivalent of smicha at 18 years of age and was known as Herr Doktor Rabbiner. Both grandfathers did. One went into business, the other was a rosh yeshiva and then, when there was a family problem, he went out to work.

The reason huge numbers of Jews abandoned observance cannot all be blamed on their move to America. The Haskala movement began in Europe. One major factor was the impossible conditions under which Jews lived in Europe; even when they were "Physically" safe, anti-semitism was not only rife but overtly acceptable. And that physical safety was not a given either. Pogroms occured all over in varying degrees. Take Jews who have been hunted for centuries just because they are Jewish and put them here in America, which should have been a safer haven. You aren't going to root out centuries of experience just because a country says welcome to America. Many of those Jews who assimilated when they got here were working on the assumption that if they don't know I'm Jewish, they can't come after me. They believed that fitting in was the way to survive.

Again, there are many reasons why the Sefardi Jews may have stayed closer to observance when they arrived here, but we should also keep in mind that they had centuries of practice in being outwardly gentile while practicing their religion in secret. The Conversos and Marranos come to mind. That "survival" knowledge did not seem to have been shared to any great degree between the two groups.

Interesting note on the Sefardic survival techniques. If you ever visit the Touro synagogue in Rhode Island they will point out to you that the Torah readers bimah has an unusual feature; there is a hidden trap door on the bench behind the bimah. The trap door led to a tunnel under the shul which came out in an area away from the shul. If danger threatened, the congregants could get out and away instead of being caught and trapped in the shul. I've never heard of such a feature in any of the "Ashkenaz" shuls. Centuries of preparedness at work.

In small villages and towns the Jews might have kept themselves a closed society, but in the larger towns and cities they were not all relegated to ghetto living. Many of these Jews also remained frum--it was not just those stuck in the hinterlands that remained frum.

Yes, it is beautiful that so many Jews are learned. But that comes at a high price, in many ways. The poorer the frum element becomes, in terms of being able to pay for yeshiva education, the more select those yeshivas become. They allocate rare resources to the frum first. Even among the frum, they have to limit the number of tuition-free students because they can't afford them. The more you go to the right the less you see kiruv work, Lubavich excepted and a few rare organizations whose mission is Kiruv. The attitude expressed by enough people to make me highly uncomfortable is "if they are even considering assimilating they are beyond our help."

Back in the 60s in Portland, Oregon, the rabbi of the OU shul had a really mixed bag of congregants. The vast majority were not frum but considered themselves "traditional." Their children were fast moving away from even that designation. The rabbi worked hard to keep these children "in the fold." Four success stories attest to his determination and hard work. Two of the boys became Lakewood Yeshiva boys, and real examples of "the best boy in Lakewood." One of the boys was a musmach of Torah Vodaas. One of the boys was a YU graduate. All are frum today. All have frum families. Thinking about the attitudes prevalent then and those prevalent now, I really doubt that these boys' stories would have turned out so well in today's times. Would the NY yeshivas now welcome with open arms into high school a boy with limited learning knowledge but a chance to grow?

Dave said...

Would the NY yeshivas now welcome with open arms into high school a boy with limited learning knowledge but a chance to grow?

At the risk of being cynical, how wealthy and generous are the parents?

ProfK said...

With one exception the parents were all working class people. The boys were sent East and paid nothing for tuition at all. Their parents neither put stumbling blocks in front of the boys nor participated in their "reverting" back to frumkeit. The rabbi managed to raise a bit of money from some of his friends to cover plane fare and a bit of pocket money but the yeshivas took care of everything else. Parents who were not shomer shabbos, shomer kashrut or shomer anything and you ask about donating to a yeshiva? Didn't happen.

Dave said...

Sorry, I was unclear.

I wasn't being cynical about Portland in the 1960s, I was being cynical about New York today.

Anonymous said...

I think you may be right. Tuition may be a problem with no solution. We might perhaps alleviate the problem a tiny bit but we can't solve it completely or even in a major way. So we need to look for another place where we can reduce what it costs to be frum to some sort of manageable level. There are some small things we could do, but they won't give us much more relief then that $1000 that a yeshiva might be able to reduce tuition. But they could help add to the total saved.

Put a moratorium on buying any clothing with a label, men and women. No more Borsolino hats. No more Georgie sheitels either. Go back to way less expensive synthetic sheitels or wear a tichel. No more designer anything. I bet we could easily match that yeshiva deduction if not double or triple it.

No more buying houses in areas where the real estate is highly inflated or where the taxes are higher then most people pay for their mortgages in other areas. New communities need to be investigated, even here in the NYC area.

No more sleepaway camps for the boys as a requirement by their yeshivas. Day camps in the city are a lot cheaper. Or maybe they could go to summer school and make up for what they miss in English subjects during the yeshiva school year. Or maybe swimming and gym classes at a local community center, which are lots cheaper then the away camps are.

Just a few thoughts--I'm sure others can think of more. If instead of $40 thousand a year in tuition for four kids and then summer camps of $15 thousand for the summer I could reduce the tuition to $36 thousand and reduce the summer costs to about $3000 leaving me another $12 thousand toward tuition, and reduce other spending I would be a lot better off.

Anonymous said...

Prof. K.:

What I meant to say, but messed up in a last minute edit, is that many came to America specifically to get away from a religion they found meaningless and confining.

My point is that the educational system of Eastern Europe, with the partial exception of the great yeshivot (which probably never enrolled as many as 5000 students at a time accross Europe), was largely a failure at keeping Jews frum, once they had the opportunity to leave the fold. It is not an example we should follow.
The system of Rav Hirsch in Germany was somewhat better at educating frum Ba'alei Battim, but that, too, lost many. And did little if anything to reclaim those who had left the fold between the opening of the ghetto and the 1870's.

Bas~Melech said...

ProfK brought up the revolutionary concept that college-educated people who spend much time on secular education may have a smoother time earning a living. May I add that there are options available these days to minimize the amount of secular studies and cultural exposure involved in obtaining higher education. There are many such opportunities for women; perhaps the 'klal' should promote more of these options for men.

Anonymous said...

Wait. Kollel guys who expect to make no money, and teachers who complain that they make no money. Seems pretty simple to me - make the kollel guys into the school teachers.

If the kollel guys aren't any good as teachers, what on earth are they doing in kollel?

Self-solving problem.

Anonymous said...

I am on the scholarship board for a school outside the NY/NJ metro area, and have recently discovered this particular blog

Many of the frum financial issues have been covered in other posts both here and by SefardiLady. While we do have true hardship cases, others are simply a result of poor financial planning and the need for instant gratification (and no, we do not treat our applicants like drek unlike the horror stories I have seen here)

IMHO there is no sense of achrayus to anything these days. If people felt that need, 90% of community fundraising would be for funding education, which should be the TOP priority in ANY JEWISH community. Remaining 10% towards other charities. Perhaps the "teen crisis" would disappear if we were able to address their needs within the educational framework.

In Scranton, 100% of Federation dollars are used to fund day schools. How many other communities are like that?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that everyone is ignoring the obvious solution. Birth control. It is much less expensive to educate and raise 2 kids then 4 or 5 kids. It may be extremely unpopular, but what about not having more kids then you can afford?

Anonymous said...

anonymous 12:03

We are not talking about educating 2/3 children or 4/5 children.

We are talking about families with 10 and more children. The expenses of food and clothing for a family that size are astranomical.

When you also add that they are one income families you get to understand the bigger pictures. Mothers cannot possibly handle a family that size, so they demand more and more from schools. School days become longer and with fewer vacations. I remember when I was growing up we had 2 weeks off prior to pesach, now schools give less then one week. When I was growing up schools were 5 days per week, now they are mostly 6 (MO schools are an exception). In the summer they send their children away to camp. All these services cost money, too...

Anonymous said...

It's important to realize that there isn't one "solution" *and* that tuition will always be expensive. But the goal has to be to make that expense as bearable as possible for the middle-of-the-road people, and to find solutions for low income people as well.

One suggestion that I rarely see is to eliminate most of the "administration". In my opinion, much of it is extraneous and could be done away with. I went to Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Boro Park, and we had a Rabbi (Rabbi Karlin for the 60's and early 70's) who served as Principal and Rosh Yeshiva, we had Mrs. Twerski who did everything else, and we had Mr. Rodriguez (I think that was his name) who changed the lightbulbs and fixed all sorts of things when they needed fixing. I think there was also a nurse that came in once a week or so. Today the school we send out daughters to has at least 20 administrators (of which at least 6 of them have very high salaries). I am not exaggerating in the least.

ProfK said...

Anonymous 257, you are quite right about the administration and you beat me to the punch on a post I was planning for.

Anonymous 11:54, what you discuss is one of the advantages of being out of town and/or in smaller communities. There is a sense of everyone being in it together, a real sense of community and communal responsibility. You simply cannot talk about a New York Community as one entity. You cannot talk about a Flatbush community as one entity. You cannot even talk about a Midwood Flatbush community as one entity. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of little "fiefdoms" all over these areas, and for many of them, when they are not busy competing their hearts out for primacy over the others, they are busy ignoring the others. Deny it as they might, it's mostly every group for itself.

Anonymous 12:03, birth control may be obvious but it is one of those powder keg subjects. It's not that such measures are completely forbidden by halacha, but a competent Rav needs to be consulted. And therein lies the problem. There is no consensus of opinion on what is permissible and for whom. Nor have I ever heard a Rav publicly advertise "Come and see me if you have any questions on birth control." They don't even mention the words. There does seem to be some sense in not having children you truly cannot afford to raise with even the minimum of necessities supplied, but if no one will give the subject a hearing, nothing is going to be done.

The tuition problem can affect even "smaller" families of only 3-5 children, not only those that are considerably larger. If you are a younger couple, with earnings not yet at a high point, then 3-5 children can cause financial hardship. If you are in that no man's land of being somewhere in the middle class as far as income goes, so that you do not qualify for any type of governmental assistance, but are not particularly well off, school tuition can kill you, even with 3 to 5 kids. Even a $100 thousand per year income with that many kids puts you skirting trouble. Out of that income you probably won't qualify for tuition assistance in most places, but you could be paying $50 thousand in tuition. That would leave you with $30 thousand to cover rent, utilities, food, insurance, clothing and all the rest. One major unexpected expense during the year could blow the budget to hell and then where would that family be? But you are right, that the larger families are truly the ones in trouble.

Bas Melech,
There are indeed all kinds of higher educational opportunities for the frum boys that allow for both learning and studying secular studies, but I would point this out: they aren't cheap. And tuition assistance is not a given, certainly not complete tuition remission. Many of the boys choosing these options end college owing a fortune in student loans. If a college charges $18,000 a year for a fall and spring semester program, where is that money coming from? The pool of those willing and able to make large size donations to schools is limited. Demand outpaces supply.

Lion of Zion said...

regarding the vouchers mentioned above:

1) will likely never be a widespread program because of (legitimate) constitutional objections. so let's stop pretending this is going to save us.

2) how much of a voucher are talking about? will it really put that much of dent in tution?

3) the yeshivot will never let us benefit from vouchers. case in point: NY subsidizes free universal pre-k for a few hours a day. so my son's gan should be a few thousand dollars cheaper next year, right? (not free because he is there all day.) so why is his tuition about the same for next year? well the jewish schools assume that if we can afford $X this year, we can afford it next year as well, so they "raise" tuition to account for the "subsidy."

Anonymous said...

Okay so let's assume that yeshivas cannot lower tuition because they are charging what it costs them to educate our kids. Let's say salaries are fair for the teaching and administrative staff. Let's say that even if they could trim a little it wouldn't be worth more than a few hundred dollars per child. Then what? Where do those having money problems go? Where can they save?

If we are looking at places that money could be saved we should look at sleep away camps first. My sister in law has been trying to warn me that the cost is crazy--my kids are not that age yet. Her husband admitted that they spent $15,000 last summer for 4 kids in camp. I can't even say that amount never mind think of how I would add that to my budget.

Another sister in law is sending her daughter to Israel next year--$20,000 for the year. That's another place we could think of when cutting costs. When I said I won't consider sleep away camp or Israel for the kids, everyone says that I will change my mind when the time comes. The schools will insist I send to camp and to Israel. The kids friends will put on pressure. People will warn me it is bad for future shidduchim.

So I ask again, where can I cut some expenses down if schools and my community are going to try and force me to spend like what sleep away camps and Israel costs?

Anonymous said...

We frum Jews don't like to hear about Survival of the Fittest but it applies here. If we don't adapt to the real problems of money that are facing us, if we don't see that we have to change our spending habits, if we don't stop blaming the financial problems on everyone else, like saying the yeshivas are charging too much money when maybe they are and maybe they aren't, then the frum community is killing itself off. Only those who are willing to face the idea that we have have to change will survive. What can we do personally to reduce the amount of money we need to live on? Maybe women who are at home now will need to go out to work. Yes, it's hard on kids at home, but isn't starving to death harder? Maybe boys will have to leave yeshiva earlier then they wanted to.

We keep hoping that some easy solution, some easy answer will pop up somewhere and save us all. I just don't see that happening and certainly not any time in the near future. We're in an economic crunch time--we need to adapt or we won't survive.