The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Tuition Kerfuffle: Missing the Forest for the Trees.

Orthomom attracted over 100 comments on her recent post about a 12% tuition increase in one of the Five Town Yeshivas. With a very few exceptions, most of the comments completely miss the point.

When I went to school in the 60's and 70's, most of the Rebbeim, with a handful of memorable exceptions, were terrible or worse. Some were just boring and disinterested. Others were, nebech, bitter survivors. Still others were cruel sadists. In my 12 years, fewer than a handful were inspiring.

By and large, at least in the yeshivas that our kids have attended, the opposite has been true. With a few exceptions, the morot and Rabbeim have been excellent, in many cases forging important and lasting relationships with our kids.

I think this is true for a number of reasons. One of them is that many rabbeim and morot come from well-to-do families who are (happily) subsidizing their childrens' choices to be mechanchim. In addition, the pay in the MO and quasi-chareidi yeshivas is more reasonable (albeit, on a relative basis, tiny compared with the alternatives). These two factors have made it possible to attract very fine young men and women into chinuch.

Indeed, the parents at these institutions demand nothing less.

This, and not administrative costs, and not lack of transparency, is the underlying cause of the tuition crisis. Teachers' salaries make up the overwhelming percentage of the costs of running a school. It's really that simple.

I addressed the red herring of administrative costs yesterday.

The idea that a lack of transparency is a cause of the tuition crisis is another red herring. Anyone who has ever run any charitable organization that is not disfunctional knows two things: First, they are not democracies. They are usually run by 5 or 6 men who put their money and their time where their mouths are.

Second, transparency is overrated. What good, exactly, do people think will come of transparency? What do parents think they will see when they look at the books? Will it change the fact that teachers' salaries comprise over 75% of the budget? Do they want to see how much each teacher is making? Will that help attract teachers?

Instead of harping on transparency and administrative costs, people need to be focusing on raising money from alternative sources. As one astute commentor correctly pointed out, we are being bled to death by parlor meetings for mosdos from out of town. We absolutely must find a way to fairly impose an 'inheritance tax' to build up a proper endowment (then transparebncy will, perhaps, become more important). Yeshiva education simply must become the most important focus.



  • At 2:07 PM, Blogger Avi said…

    I've written this response specifically to address MoChassid's ideas about tuition. I've also posted it with a more detailed introduction at my blog:

    MoC. I think your mind and experience would serve well to form a Yeshiva/Day School think tank to actuate some if the ideas I present below. I have taken the time to write this post because while informative, your post, by no means exhausts the issue.

    It is true that in some communities, the Rebbeim and Morot are from well-to-do families. But an overwhelming majority in most other places are people of relatively modest means who work in yeshivas due to their because personal ideology (for instance, my wife refused to work in NYC public school because she understood her talents would benefit Jewish children), or because they are simply unqualified, though often due to circumstances beyond their control.

    I agree: the transparency argument is misplaced here. The solution to the financial problem is not transparency. In fact, I can trace the rise of this transparency buzzword to a post I wrote on a few months ago, where I called for greater transparency. However, the transparency I spoke of has more to do with a responsible mode of solving the coming crisis of credibility and misplaced trust I see coming down the line for Yeshivas and day schools.

    The background there is that I believe Yeshivas and day schools are not immune to the same market forces that force public companies to take elaborate measures to keep stockholders, in this case parents and supporters, informed and educated about their progress and material decisions. It is the only way to minimize mistrust and suspicion, while squelching rumors and misunderstanding early in their lifecycle.

    Though I don’t advocate quarterly or annual reports, I certainly stand behind measures to sustain control of an organization’s reputation and public image. For instance, more frequent, more intelligent, communiqués with the public, via newspaper articles, blogs, website, and donor mailings. But in doing so, to shy away from the mindless, strategy-devoid, PR-fluff their ill-advised (ill-qualified) “marketing gurus” generate and their ego-driven insiders crave.

    Rather, they must dedicate themselves to honest dialogue and realistic self-promotion. Doing so, in the next few years, will be essential for yeshiva and day school administrators to reclaim their lost high moral ground, and to redirect the direction of discourse away from scorn, anger, and mistrust toward ceding to educators their credible role in educating children. But I digress.

    The cause of the “tuition crisis” is redundancy. Eliminating redundancy is the solution.

    All yeshivas and day schools are expensive to operate. Which is why they must begin to believe that they are on the same side. It is time for educational institutions to end the distrust and recognize they are all passengers on the same listing ship.

    Rather than subsist as suspicious competitors, they MUST begin to RECIPROCALLY work together. This includes coordinating purchases for supplies, furniture, construction, insurance, financial planning, fundraising, printing, car leases, energy, and all other big-ticket items. It also means developing creative ways to pool resources such as teachers, specialty staff, equipment and supplies. By taking intelligent measures to reduce redundancy and increase coordination, yeshivas and day schools can truly lower overhead and seriously reduce the price of education.

    Inevitably, the “can’t-do crew” will insist that if disembodied, centralized organizations like Agudah, BJE, and Torah U’mesorah haven’t taken these step until now, then it must be tried and untrue. I vehemently disagree.

    It is not up to the big kids to make this happen. The problem and responsibility lies with individual schools. The solution is for three or four yeshivas or day schools, they needn’t be “brand names,” to band together for a two-year experiment to actively eliminate redundancy. In two years the results will be tangible, scalable, and adaptable. Everyone will benefit as a result.

    There’s another thoroughly related point. Fundraising. Nonprofit organizations typically operate in crisis mode. They are wont to make decision reactively, rather than proactively, which invariably results in inexcusable inefficiency. But the real crisis in education is that yeshiva administrators and board members refuse to acknowledge that the crisis is over!

    Instead of thinking small, which an overwhelming majority do, they must to open their eyes and minds. The "bingo mentality" that permeates nonprofit organizations has to end. Chinese auctions, raffles, begging, and conniving to scrounge money from parents and donors is short sighted and, in the long term, prevents nearly 95% of all yeshivas and day schools to never move forward past their short term financial needs.

    It’s time to enlist “Wall Street-types” with serious, real world acumen in high finance and the creation of custom-financial products to accommodate stepped-up demands for bequests, large gifts, and interest-bearing products specifically designed to help nonprofits. Yeshivas and Day Schools need to stop looking for small potatoes and step into the big leagues. Incidentally, this applies to any organization, no matter how big or small.

    Tax laws are on the books, which work to your advantage. But it takes thinking beyond the short-term schuckle to bilk dollars in questionable ways and creating creative, but concrete solutions that promote solutions that reach far into the future.

    I believe that most schools are selling chocolates for singles when they could be floating bond issues. They’re buying pushkas when they should be forming endowments and custom-made equity funds. Thinking big is the only way to make an impact.

    Once, I read that the worst form of poverty is the poverty of imagination. I fear our yeshivas and Day Schools suffer this poverty prodigiously. But I believe that within our ranks there exists relief from our various crises. The solution is to think. To think bigger. To think beyond tomorrow. And most of all, to think together. It’s the only way we can help ourselves.

  • At 2:56 PM, Blogger PsycleSteve said…

    Good point comparing the 60's-70's to today. My kids are getting an infinitely better education in both limudei kodesh and chol compared to what I received in the yeshivah day school system. I have always told my wife that I'm amazed that I remained frum DESPITE my Rebbeim.

    I realize that you get what you pay for but the costs are simply exhorbitant for many families. It's so sad seeing wonderful couples limit the size of their families due to tuition concerns, while other ethnic groups reproduce wantonly at other peoples expense...

  • At 9:19 PM, Blogger Orthonomics said…

    while other ethnic groups reproduce wantonly at other peoples expense...

    I think this is a rather large assumption to throw into the mix. There are plenty of wonderful families from other groups that are paying their own way.

  • At 9:57 PM, Blogger PsycleSteve said…


    I'm sure there are. However, of the two largest "ethnic" groups in this country, one has 80% of its children born out of wedlock, the other 60%. How does this compare to the students in your children's classes?

  • At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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