Any secondary school (public or private, religious or secular) is only as good as the people charged with bringing its mission to life. At Milken, our faculty, administrators and other staff are everyday heroes—people whose passion, talent and experience help broaden students’ horizons, brighten their futures and transform their lives. They are essential to our school’s positive outcomes, and valuing them as a critical resource means identifying opportunities to invest in their ongoing success.
To that end, in 2021 we overhauled our tuition remission policy to cover 100% of tuition costs for all full-time employees. We made this decision for reasons both practical and philosophical, and it was a shift whose positive ramifications are already being felt across our school community.
Up until the 2018-19 school year, our tuition remission policy was more limited in scope. The percentage of tuition depended upon length of employment, with 25% being remitted beginning at date of hire and 50% following five years of continuous employment. Only senior administrators received a 100% tuition remission benefit; for everyone else, securing additional funds toward tuition meant applying for need-based financial aid.
The policy was generous, but it was also insufficient. Our salaries always have been competitive, benchmarked against our peer schools to maintain our position at the leading-edge of the market. Yet with skyrocketing housing costs and rising inflationary pressures, our faculty and staff were increasingly forced to do more with less, and for those with school-age children, the burden of affording their portion of Milken tuition was becoming harder and harder to carry.
Deciding to Change
In light of these growing challenges, we determined to engage in a dual self-examination: a detailed financial analysis, and a more conceptual cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. Our goal was to find a path forward vis-à-vis school financing that would reduce the pressures facing some of our employees and help them feel even more intrinsically connected to our community. In the process, we hoped to bolster recruitment and retention by enhancing the ability of our employee-parents to send their children to our school.
Because we are in the business of teaching how Jewish ethics and traditions can inform students’ day-to-day lives, we are committed to ensuring that ethical framework is reflected in all aspects of the running of our school. That means honoring our employees, respecting their contributions and making them feel valued. Just as we want each of our students to be seen and heard, so, too, do we prioritize efforts to position our fellow team members to thrive. Our thinking went something like this: As we work to create a tightly knit family, it should be incumbent upon us to do what families do—to offer meaningful support that furthers each member’s ability to meet his or her individual needs.
There was another compelling reason to move in this direction, as well. All too often, as we lament the lack of interest in, or affiliation with, the Jewish community from the broader Jewish public, we are simultaneously failing to serve the very people who are most passionate about their involvement. Neglecting this cohort undermines our larger efforts to expand the population of engaged American Jews.
At Milken, we conceived of the dilemma in this way: If we are not doing our best to capture the generation of young Jews whose parents (i.e., our employees), through their career choices, have demonstrated their passion for Judaism, how can we credibly expect to attract other people for whom there is naturally a much higher bar to entry? Fully funding tuition for the children of our employees would send a strong message about our seriousness when it comes to making a Jewish day school education as broadly accessible as possible. In other words, there was a clear alignment of interests: What was good for our employees could also be good for our effectiveness at driving enrollment and thus, ultimately, advancing our vital mission.
Looking at Impact
Our next step was to look at the math. What we found was startling: Since many employees who were receiving limited tuition remission were also applying for and receiving need-based financial aid, school employees were only paying, on average, 12% of total annual tuition. That meant Milken was already covering most of the cost for each of these students; we were just requiring employees to jump through onerous hurdles (the need-based tuition assistance process is time-consuming and rigorous) to get there.