Sunday, September 7, 2008

Do the Math

Tuition seems to be the #1 problem when it comes to discussions of economics and being frum. I have yet to read a comment where someone says their tuition payments are reasonable. Everyone wants to know just what the schools are doing with the money. I will grant the schools that they do have expenses and that tuition should be covering those expenses. However........

I've mentioned this before, if not here then on other blogs, but the question is not why tuition is what it is but why it has risen at a far faster rate then other consumer products have over the years. When my oldest was in kindergarten, the cost was $300 per year, full tuition. When she hit first grade that jumped to $325 per year, full tuition. I am now hearing about tuitions for first grade in the $8-12 thousand dollar range. From 1977 to now, please tell me what else has gone up to this degree? [ Note: the only thing I can think of that comes close is the cost of having a baby. My first child cost $300 to the obstetrician for monthly visits and delivery; my niece paid $6000 last year for the same service.]

When I got married in 1972 the cost of whole chicken was 39 cents a pound--it is not over $8 per pound today. A two-pound loaf of rye at the bakery was 50 cents--it is not over $10 today. I paid 39 cents a gallon for gas--even with the steep price raises it is not over $8 today. My second apartment, a 3-bedroom half a house in Flatbush was $250 per month including heat and hot water in 1974--that same apartment does not rent for $6500 plus per month today, even with Brooklyn prices.

And here is another thing: salaries have not gone up by the same multiplier that tuition has over the years. A starting out salary in the computer field in 1972 was $125 a week, or about $14 thousand per year. If we follow our school tuition model, that starting salary should be well above $300 thousand a year today. The first year salary for a yeshiva limudei chol teacher when I got married was $4-7 thousand a year, depending on the school. Know any yeshiva limudei chol teachers whose starting salary in 2008 will be over $80 thousand? I wish.

So my question is, what are the schools doing today that they didn't do back when I got married? Why have their costs escalated at a much faster rate than other basic living expenses? The school my children went to had a menahel and an English principal. It had a school secretary. There was a morah and an English teacher for each grade. The children had the option of getting a hot lunch in school. There was a school custodian. There was a play yard with equipment in it. So yes, I'm seriously asking, what are they giving us today that costs so much more? I have my suspicions about where the money is going but I'd like to hear yours.


Anonymous said...

$300??!!!! Are you sure you didn't leave off a zero there? Because if you didn't then by my figuring even if everyone paid full tuition and a class had 30 kiids, which they don't, then tuition didn't cover the cost of two teachers never mind anything else the school had to spend on. That would mean that back then schools were getting a lot of money from other places then just tuition, places they must not be getting from today. So that does raise some questions about where schools are getting their funds from.

Lion of Zion said...

" I am now hearing about tuitions for first grade in the $8-12 thousand dollar range"

uh, 1st grade? pre-school can easily reach 12k, and beyond

Lion of Zion said...

there are costs that have gone up significantly, such as energy, technology, construction costs, staffing (e.g., having an assistant teacher in younger grades, as well as bloated administrative staff), insurance (for the school and especially for teachers), etc.

also, schools now offer a much wider range of classes, services, extracurricular activities and other non-school school activities that are covered by tuition. this is especially an issue in MO schools. each school has to up the next one. does a school really need 14 athletic teams? (extra fees don't cover the entire cost.) something i've been meaning to blog about is that one way to control tuition is to get back to the basics of education.

Anonymous said...

I believe your tuition figures make sense, because I remember hearing that tuition at a MO HS in 1981 was $3000.

I think that not enough money is coming into the community from the outside. How does money come from the outside? From jobs, of course. The community doesn't have enough workers, as a percentage, so the income that is earned is spread over a larger number of people.

The tuition payers are subsidizing the underpayers.

Anonymous said...

I asked my mother what she paid for me in the early grades for me around 1968-1970 - i asked $1,000 per year (thinking she would say you have to be kidding) and she waived her hand and said - no not nearly that much - she said she thought it was about $300 per year full tuition

Anonymous said...

Not an accountant but I can add 2 and 2. Take 3 kids and round and with your low tuition you were paying about $1000 per year for them. You mentioned a salary of $14 thousand. That tuition represented 1/14 of gross income. If someone was making only $10 thou that still was 1/10 of gross income. Make more and tuition was an even smaller part of gross income.

Now take your figures for today and average them--$10 thousand for each child and Lion says that can be too low. But use it anyway. 3 kids is $30 thousand a year in tuition against what gross income? For that to be even 1/10 of income a family would need to be making $300 thousand a year. If a family makes $100 thousand a year that tuition is about 1/3 of their gross income. But what if that family has 6 kids? That would mean that to equal ONLY 1/10 of gross income the family would need to be earning $600 thousand a year. That isn't happening to almost anyone. And that is gross income I'm talking about, not net. So yeah, I'd really like to know what has happened to the tuition formula over the years.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't that back in the time period you are talking about that everybody paid full tuition but my parents tell me that those who didn't were expected to help out in the school to make up the deficit. Mothers were the ones who worked in the lunchroom and in the kitchen. They served as part time secretaries. They all had to participate in fund raising activities. They served as volunteers or assistants in the preschool. And my parents also say that there were less scholarships. Those who really could not afford anything were the ones who got them, not everybody who thought tuition would pinch the budget. So I'll agree with Tesyaa that it has to be that fewer people are working or working at jobs that bring in any real money and the rest of us are covering for that deficit in the budget. More people are getting larger scholarships.

Anonymous said...

It may be true like Lion says that a lot of things have been added to what the school pays for but the high costs aren't just for atheletics. I went to high school in the late 60s and my all boys school had a swim team, a trrack team, a basketball team, a wrestling team,a baseball team. Football really didn't interest the MO yeshiva kids all that much. Tennis wasn't popular like it is today. We had regular gym classes with a teacher. We also had art and music classes. There was a library. There was a resource room. There was more then one administrator. There was more then one secretary. Our English teachers were from the public schools and didn't work for cheap. We maybe didn't have all of today's extras but we also didn't have a no frills education. So it isn't just athletics.

Anonymous said...

A little math will clarify the answer for you. If a starting teacher was making $4-7K, lets say the average teacher was making $7,500. That means that, to cover the salary, plus taxes, plus benefits, plus the salary's of those not in the classroom (principal, secretary, librarian business office janitor) plus physical plant a classroom would have to throw off $15-20K to break even. 20 kids at $300 would be $6K. There was a factor of 3 subsidy that probably isn't there any more.

Anonymous said...

What no one has mentioned is the number of children per family. When a family with 1-3 kids came and asked for scholarship assistance that is different from when families today come in and want that assistance for 4-10 kids per family. And the number of families that get/need/want assistance is much larger.There weren't so many kollel couples as a percentage of the population back then.

My FiL is on the board of the yeshiva my husband went to and has been for many years. He says that back when my husband was in school about 10% of the school asked for assistance or got some type of reduction. He says that today that is 45-60 percent that asks for reductions. Less people paying means more money charged for those who do pay.

Anonymous said...

I have my suspicions about where the money is going but I'd like to hear yours.

The money is going to lots of places:


I went to Etz Chaim in Boro Park. We had 1 principal, 1 1/2 office workers, 1 custodian, and a nurse that came in once or twice a month.

And today, why the heck do we need a dean, a principal of the lower school, a principal of the middle school for Secular studies, and a principal of the middle school for limudei kodesh? And, of course, ...

2. Other staff.

An assistant for each one of the administrators. How many people do we really need working in the finance office? Do we really need a full-time librarian?

3. Special Needs.

There are all sorts of new Federal and State requirements regarding special needs children. There are also more and more special needs children. The psychologists have become very liberal with labeling kids "special needs". And that brings me to ...

4. Psychologists.

Somehow every school needs one or two of these. Guidance Counselor, Director of Advancement, School Psychologist, etc.... Much of what they do is nonsense and causes additional problems and expenses.

5. "Fancy" stuff.

Does every school really need a fancy gym? A fancy auditorium? Fancy video projectors that connect to PC's in each classroom? Fancy laptops to connect to the video stuff for the teachers? Etc....


Anonymous said...

Lots to be said on this, but one very important point - this is not limited to yeshiva tuition. The cost of education in the United States (public, that is - at least on the university level, which is part of what I study) has risen at a much faster pace than inflation/consumer price index, to the point there is actually a different index to calculate real (versus nominal) differences between years. And public education is subsidized by the government.

My point is that education is expensive. Yes, it's harder when you are frum and you want to send children to yeshiva, but the bottom line is that education has a cost - but the cost is a lot less than not getting an education at all.

ProfK said...

Anonymous 8:08,
Thanks for the info about the rise of school tuition. I did a little checking and ran across this in the Crimson, the Harvard Newspaper, dated 10/25/2006. It both supports your point and mine.

"Tuition hikes at American four-year public and private colleges have slowed to a six-year low but continue to outpace inflation by more than two percent, according to the College Board’s annual report on college pricing released yesterday.

The average growth in tuition and fees among four-year private colleges was 5.9 percent—two percent factoring inflation—for the 2006-2007 school year, amounting to an average $22,218 according to the report.

Harvard’s tuition increase, announced in March, came in below the average at 4.75 percent growth. Tuition for the 2006-2007 school year is $33,709 per student. Scholarship money grant grew by 6.2 percent this year.

Harvard College’s current annual price tag amounts to nearly two-thirds of the median household income in the United States, which was $65,093 in 2006 according to the US Census Bureau. In 1970, Harvard cost $4,070, which was less than half of the median family income, then $9,870."

Harvard went from $4070 to $33,709 over a time period of 36 years. That's about an 820% raise in price. Yeshivas during this time period went from $300 to $12,000, a 4000% increase. Even the cheaper yeshivas got about a 2300% increase. So my question still remains--why an increase in tuition that is from two to four times higher than Harvard's rate of increase? It most definitely is not that yeshivas are presenting their students with a Harvard education, so what gives?

Anonymous said...

Because the tuition of the 1970's was heavily subsidised by donors who wanted to help get the yeshivah/day school system in the US started, as i pointed out in my earlier post. As it has grown, tuition has had to come closer to paying the cost.

Anonymous said...

Some of the reasons for the raise in tuition prices have been given--donors who put in more money, relatively, back in the 60s and
70s to what the yeshivas are getting today. There were fewer children getting full tuition scholarships. The schools were offering less by way of special services back then. But there is also the matter of the buildings. When the yeshivas were first starting out any building they could get cheaply was what they were looking for. Many of them were in old public school buildings that were being sold off cheap. Many were in houses or small commercial buildings or stores that they could remodel cheaply. Today every yeshiva insists on a building in keeping with its "dignity" and position and they have gone building crazy. Have you seen the palaces on Ocean Parkway and elsewhere? And fancier buildings bring higher prices with them for construction, for mortgages, for insurance, for furnishing and for maintenance. Those names up on those buildings don't donate the full cost and it's left to parents to cover the rest.

My kids' school didn't ask the parents about what kind of new building to build. We got no input. The person who donated the money for the building did donate a lot--two million to get his name up. The final cost of the new school was 6.5 million. Want to guess who is paying that off?

Lion of Zion said...


"There weren't so many kollel couples as a percentage of the population back then."

that doesn't explain the rise in schools that don't cater to kollel families


i was just using athletics as one example. maybe not the best one, as you point out, but i remember comparing my HS years book (1992) with one from 1970 and it seemed like there was a lot more going on in my time (the only thing we didn't have anymoer were school dances and the chearleading squard :( )

Lion of Zion said...


"parents tell me that those who didn't were expected to help out in the school to make up the deficit"

this is more difficult today when both parents are often working to begin with.


"The cost of education in the United States (public, that is - at least on the university level, which is part of what I study) has risen at a much faster pace than inflation/consumer price index"

why compare it to higher education? yeshivah education is not really that expensive when compared to private high schools.
i wrote about this here.


i'm not 100% sure about everything in nos. 1-4, but i agree with no. 5


i think it becomes a vicious cycle of rising tuition and an expectation of better facilities and frills

Anonymous said...


I am not differentiating between schools that cater to kollel families and those that don't. It's not so relevant. There is less money in the community, period. There are fewer donors, relatively, and more needy people and needy causes. So the money the community has to give is spread thinner.

Even if a school doesn't cater to a kollel population, it is less likely to receive charitably donations and endowments because there are so many other "mosdos" in need. It's a global, not necessarily local, diminution of funds.

Anonymous said...

1) In the mid-80s, my yeshiva ketanah menahle drove a beat-up old station wagon. Today, same yeshiva, same menahel, drives a brand new Lexus. Back then a major claim was, "how can you get quality teachers if you won't pay them a living wage?" Today my question is, "now that they're being paid so well, are we actually getting the quality?" If he's the same kind of educator now that he was back then, I'd give an emphatic "no".

2) If the high tuition prices have led to such a larger percentage of parents needing "assistance", wouldn't lowering tuitions re-establish the equilibrium? Can we find the best possible middle-ground that doesn't end up penalizing those at the upper end of the scale? Maybe if they felt less gouged, they'd be more willing to supplement tuition with donations?

3) The Ivy League parallel is truly telling. I graduated an Ivy League University in the late 90s. Today, roughly ten years later, the annual estimated cost of going to the same university (tuition + fees + dorm + meal plan) is just about double what it was when I attended. It boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

There have been some comments about getting rid of the frills to reduce the price of tuition. Sports teams was mentioned as one frill. Yeshiva kids are not immune to the obesity problems in the US. They already don't get gym every day. At least offering teams is one way to get some of them up and moving.

Then there was mentioned technology. So we won't buy any computers for the schools and teach the kids how to use them? Re the video monitor for the classroom, is that really any different then when they used to use projectors and screens? And science labs will have no equipment?

Re specialized personnel like nurses and counselors and psychologists and librarians and therapists. First, a school librarian is not a new job--had one in the early 70s in my school. A nurse? Given the number of children who attend school who need to take medications regularly during the day she becomes a necessity, especially since the law says a teacher can't administer this medicine. Never mind the number of situations that arise daily when you have large groups of kids together that a nurse could be invaluable for, like checking for lice.

Psychologists--you need one on call if not on permanent duty because many of them are trained at ferreting out learning problems and other emotional problems that interfere with learning. Isn't it nice that we are finally admitting that our yeshiva kids can have these problems and that we are dealing with them? Therapists? The board of education expects that schools will offer this service. Yeshiva parents don't get the service for free the way the public schools do although they could because they don't provide a separate space for the therapists to work from that is not in the religious school building. The parents don't/won't take their kids to the closest public school to receive the service. So the answer is to hire private therapists. The cost of bringing in one trailer to put on the school grounds so that a board of ed therapist could come and work with the kids has got to be cheaper than paying all those salaries year after year but some schools don't have the room where to put them and other schools want only frum therapists.

Are there some frilly areas we could cut back on? For sure, but let's not be so fasst to call something a frill just because it wasn't around in the 60s. Microwaves weren't around in the 60s and neither were home computers and cell phones and a whole lot of other things. Do we really want to be saying that if something is new and innovative and helpful that we don't need it just because our parents didn't have it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah that we can't just be looking at the price increase in tuition from 40 years ago to now. Schooling has not remained the same--it's improved in many ways and you pay for those innovations. Are there places where tuition could be scaled down? Yes I'm sure there are. But blaming the increases on technology that is offered/used now or on having more specialists, which in my opinion is no bad thing, is too simplistic an answer.

I think the comments show where the problem is: rising prices on basic costs, less people donating or cutting back on how much they donate, more children on more financial assistance and a game that some schools play of my building is better then your building.

Lion of Zion said...


"wouldn't lowering tuitions re-establish the equilibrium?"

interesting. but i'd say no. at this point so many people are used to getting assistance--dare i say that there is a popular creed that full tuition is for suckers--i don't think assistance applications would all of a sudden decrease even with a drop in tuition.


"Sports teams was mentioned as one frill . . . They already don't get gym every day. At least offering teams is one way to get some of them up and moving."

that was me. i agree that exercise is very important. but i'd rather have a proper phys ed program for the entire student body than a plethora of expensive varsity teams that only a tiny percentage students participate in

"Yeshiva kids are not immune to the obesity problems in the US"

to the contrary, i suspect that they are fatter and lazier.

i agree with most of what you wrote, esp. re. the school nurse. my son's school charges $10 a head to check for lice (doctor's note not accepted). this was something done by the nurse when i was in school.

Knitter of shiny things said...

In terms of the comparison with Harvard tuition, the analogy is not perfect. Harvard has a huge multi billion dollar endowment. Even those who pay full tuition are not paying what it would actually cost to educate them, a good portion comes from the endowment. And the endowment keeps on growing because it is invested well, and lots of people (mostly alumni) donate ridiculous amounts of money. And they can do so since the Harvard degree helped them get a great job that pays well.

In a few years, I think they are going to make the undergraduate program free, since they have more than enough money to do this. They also are going to do the same at the Divinity School in a couple of years, though unfortunately this will be after I graduate. I still have to pay $24,000 a year, though at least this is much less than the current cost of an undergraduate degree. (Though you'd think they could at least be a little nice to us current Divinity School students and give us a tuition reduction if they have all that extra money. Like even if they made it $20,000 a year instead, that would make a huge difference.)

(Also, the Divinity School has less money because its alumni become pastors or professors or go into social service; very few of them get high paying jobs.)

Yeshivot, on the other hand, don't have billion-dollar endowments. Or million-dollar endowments. Do they even have any endowments? If they had an endowment, they would have a steady source of income that would help defray the cost of tuition. But if they're already spending everything they have, they probably don't have the resources to create a huge endowment. And thus the situation will just get worse and worse.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anyone is still reading this thread.

But, the rise in tuitions is not a good gauge, imo. I think the strategy of yeshiva tuitions is as follows:

Those who can't afford it at $5,000 per child can't afford it at $10,000 per child. So, we might as well make tuition $10,000 as those who have money will pay it (and won't qualify for a tuition break anyways) and those who don't have money but have either too much pride to ask, or relatives who will help, or can borrow against their house will pay full tuition also.

Therefore, setting tuitions high is just a way of forcing those who can pay to subsidize everyone who can't.

Why do they do this? Imagine tuition was $5,000 per child. They'd still have many who can't pay. But those who can pay aren't going to make a $5,000 / child donation to the school. Even if the school came begging for donations, those same people who would pay $10K if that was the actual price won't pay an addition $5K just because they're being asked nicely.

I think this is the root of the problem.