Choosing the Right Affordability Model

Parents consistently question whether they can afford private education and whether private education is worth making financial sacrifices for, especially in neighborhoods where public schools might be an option. Tuition pages are customarily the most intimidating part of an independent school’s website for prospective parents. Is it worth giving up their annual family vacation? Restaurants? Gym memberships?  

Before Covid, many Jewish day schools across the country struggled with flat enrollment or declines, while needing to prepare their communities for yearly tuition increases. Although many schools did see trends swing upward during the past few years, other schools have not been so fortunate, and underlying realities continue to require a focus on affordability. Boards and administrators continue to look for solutions beyond tuition increases, program updates and fundraising. 

Three years ago, Beth Yeshurun Day School (BYDS) in Houston was familiar with these trends and discussions. Even with a robust financial aid program, we heard from many prospective and withdrawing parents that tuition was just not manageable, especially for families with multiple children. The board of trustees and senior administration began to discuss realistic enrollment and tuition options for BYDS, knowing something had to change.  

After reviewing strategies, such as tuition increases to align with remaining enrolled families or affordability options to help grow enrollment, we chose to investigate the latter. Where do you start when there are more than a dozen affordability models that have been attempted by day schools nationwide? Do you implement an indexed tuition? Sliding-scale tuition? Multi-student discounts? Jewish professionals discount? Increase traditional financial aid?



Form a committee. Given the amount of work that comes with pursuing the right affordability model for your school, forming a small committee is essential. This can include the board chair, treasurer, CFO, head of school and a large donor who believes in the value of Jewish education. Keep in mind, the more people on the committee, the more possibilities for information to be made public before you’re ready. Adherence to agreed-upon ground rules, including discretion, is critical. 

Research. Thoroughly research multiple models and create a pros and cons list for each. Every model has risks associated with it. For BYDS, all showed outcomes that were financially alarming if not successful, but they also brought optimism and excitement with them. Which model provides the best benefit for your families? Which model makes the most financial sense for your operating budget? 

We also found it incredibly helpful speaking with other day school administrators, lay leaders and consultants who have been down this road before. Gaining insights into their successes and challenges helped steer our discussions on certain topics that otherwise may not have come up. Some may even try to persuade you in one direction or another based on their own history. Remember, not all Jewish communities are alike, and results in one may turn out completely differently in another. All the while keeping in mind, you know your community best.  

Build scenarios. Once the committee narrows down affordability models, creating realistic household budgets with various income levels is imperative. We chose to look at scenarios that best represented BYDS families (middle income, upper income and multiple children). This included average mortgages in zip codes where the majority of our families live, typical car payments, yearly food and medical costs, philanthropy to other organizations and allotment for annual vacations and sleepaway camp.  

We looked at spreadsheet after spreadsheet calculating possible tuition prices per grade, considering the number of siblings for current and prospective families. From our research, we determined we needed a combination between two different affordability models: a multi-student discount and a tuition reduction. Don’t be afraid to build scenarios that take pieces from multiple affordability models. Early childhood families would benefit from a discount if they had a sibling enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade. PreK–fifth grade families would benefit from a significantly decreased tuition price, anywhere from 20%–40% depending on the grade level. This scenario included a six-year model with small increases (4.5%) at three years and at six years. 

Lastly, together with our CFO, we analyzed how many new students would need to enroll each year to make up the difference in tuition. And back to the spreadsheet we went...

Find donors. An increase in enrollment alone won’t support an affordability model. Fundraising and donor support are at the heart of being able to decrease tuition both in the short term and in the long term. Initially, it was important to secure generous donors who support making Jewish education affordable for all those who want it before the committee was able to present to the board of trustees. Once the board voted to approve the “BYDS Affordable Tuition Initiative” effective beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, it was time to pursue general community fundraising and ask our annual giving donors to increase their yearly donations in an amount meaningful to them. BYDS is a family, and our family has now come through for each other year after year, with institutional giving at its highest level. 



Add value. A reduction in tuition is still tuition. What value are you providing? What’s the catch? What is being cut from the program in order to reduce tuition? These are all questions that senior administration and lay leaders must answer before publicizing an affordability model to your constituents. Cutting anything from your program would be detrimental to the mission and vision of your school.

To avoid any misunderstanding of our tuition initiative, my team and I decided to announce our new and exciting program enhancements jointly with the tuition initiative. What could our students benefit from that we did not already offer? We announced individualized learning plans for every student and a new J-STEAM program, all under our new leadership. This allowed us to turn the questions of enrollment and re-enrollment to “How are you making this possible?” and “We’ll get all this for that price?!”

Publicize. What is the most effective way to get the word out? How do you make sure the narrative is factual? This is another time when keeping the affordability model internally until ready is crucial. We scheduled a town hall event for our community to present the initiative. For a month, we promoted it with the teaser “Something BIG will be shared at this event—don’t miss it!” Our marketing department created a whiteboard animation video to explain the information in an easily digestible way to be shared on social media and in an email immediately following the in-person announcement.

The timing was important. The announcement needed to be made before November, in preparation for admissions season. The presentation included the tuition plans for the next six years, including raising it twice. Being transparent with our community and sharing future tuition prices helped young families better digest their children’s school costs throughout their six-year journey from kindergarten through fifth grade graduation.

Measuring success. Is an affordability model right for your school? How do you measure its success? From our point of view, halfway into the six-year model, our tuition initiative has been successful. Enrollment has grown more than 55% over the past three years. The community has become even more supportive in terms of building community relationships, supporting our staff, participating in our fundraisers and events and being active volunteers in our PTO. We have also continued to launch new program initiatives each year that build up our program and curriculum, keeping in mind where stagnancy got us a few years ago.

Overall, our marketing pitch of “Everyone deserves a strong Jewish foundation” wasn’t just a pitch. It is a belief I feel strongly about as a day school graduate, parent and Beth Yeshurun Day School’s head of school. While choosing the right affordability model for your school can be daunting, it also can provide a much-needed benefit for your community and the sustainability of Jewish education.

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HaYidion Fall 2022 Affordability
Fall 2022
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