In October 2021, we announced the realization of a long-held dream: Anyone who works full-time in a Jewish nonprofit would be eligible for a 50% tuition discount. This would apply to our full-time teachers (who previously got a 30% discount until they had worked at the school for 16 years), to current families with at least one parent at a Jewish nonprofit, and to any incoming family. People could still apply for tuition assistance on top of the 50%, but the first half of tuition would be an automatic discount.
There were several reasons we had worked so long and hard to procure this tuition for our Jewish communal professionals.
As a value statement. One of our school’s core values is “Living a Jewish Life/זהות יהודית.” We speak a lot to our students and families about what it means to live a Jewish life; for some people it means living in Israel, for others it means living a shomer Shabbat, shomer kashrut life, and yet others emphasize a connection to Jewish culture. However, we do know that most of Jewish life would be impossible without those professionals who work on behalf of our people. Ultimately, if we say that we value Jewish life, we want to support those who are dedicating their life’s work to enhancing our community.
As a practical statement. Most people who work for the Jewish people cannot afford to live among the Jewish people. In Los Angeles, especially in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood where our school is situated, starter houses are $2M. It is rare that someone can pay for kosher food, synagogue membership, a home in the neighborhood, and Jewish day school on a Jewish nonprofit salary.
As a recruitment tool. Families in which one parent works for a Jewish nonprofit are generally mission-appropriate families. We already offer robust tuition assistance to those in need, and it felt like a good use of our resources to help these families take a second look at our school, once cost might not feel like such a hurdle.
The idea lived as an aspiration for several years, and the pandemic put a hold on some of our loftier goals while we managed our day-to-day existence. However, in the summer/fall of 2021, after participating in Prizmah’s three-session workshop on tuition affordability, our board and school leadership team acknowledged that the time was right to begin this work officially. There were two factors that helped us to turn this dream into a reality.
First, our school was growing. From June 2020 through the fall of 2021, the school’s enrollment increased by 18%. This growth helped us to have more financial stability when considering how to launch an aggressive affordability program.
Second, our team was strong. We had recently hired new directors of finance and institutional advancement, both of whom would play pivotal roles in designing the program, creating its financial models, and marketing it. These two key positions, filled by the right people, made the board leadership feel confident about the decisions that would be made.
We are now in the first school year of the program’s implementation. There have been some true positive outcomes, as well as some lessons learned that, with hindsight, showed what we might have done differently.
Enrollment. Seven families (representing 15 children) joined the school as a result of this program. Many of the Jewish professionals shared that they only dared to look at the school because of this program.
Retention. Twenty-one current Pressman families (representing 42 children) benefitted from the program. Many of these families, who were already receiving tuition assistance, told us that they now can feel confident about staying through their youngest child’s graduation because of this tuition affordability program.
In several cases, the families previously paid in full and more, even generous with their tzedakah beyond tuition. In these cases, we reached out about continuing to pay full tuition and counting the other 50% as a tax-deductible donation. While most of the families were generous in continuing their support, we did ultimately lose some revenue on which we could previously rely. We have calculated that the increased enrollment helps to compensate for some of this loss, but we had not anticipated all of the shifts in our planning.
Statement of values. Probably the greatest benefit from the discount is the loud statement of what we value as a school. One parent wrote to us:
As the child, grandchild, sibling and spouse of Jewish communal professionals, I am absolutely floored by this incredible initiative. This is such a beautiful testament to the values of the school and meaningful effort to enhance our Jewish community. We are tremendously grateful to be at Pressman this year and feel very blessed to be a part of this.
Philosophically, we always strive to live our values. From a practical perspective, this statement of values is good PR, and that PR hopefully creates a positive feedback loop that grows our enrollment.
Staffing. When making the discount available for every Jewish communal professional, we wanted to make sure our staff received the same benefit; we did not consider that staff should have a greater benefit. We had two highly valued staff members who left our school for other positions in the Jewish community, and their children, who are still enrolled in our school, still receive the tuition discount. While these staff members might have left anyway, our program currently gives no added incentive to work at Pressman instead of another day school or nonprofit. We are considering changing that in future years.
Marketing. Now that the program has launched, our next challenge is to be precise and strategic in using this program as a recruitment tool. When launching the program, we sent a press release to all Jewish communal professionals already in the Pressman community as well as to the heads of Jewish nonprofits in Los Angeles. Our next step is to make sure that all Jewish professionals know about this opportunity, which will require additional research, outreach and targeted marketing than we have done so far.
Ultimately, this feels like just the beginning. We hope that our small pilot program for Jewish communal professionals will be a launching point for a larger affordability program for more families in our community. We are grateful to the support of Prizmah in helping to turn our value into a lived reality.