Working Together to Increase Affordability

The past few years have witnessed not only a significant increase in the number of new tuition models offered by schools or communities of schools, but a near-universal acceptance of the concept of middle-income affordability. Overwhelmingly, schools across North America as well as the individuals and institutions that fund them have come to a shared understanding of the affordability challenge. 

At the same time, two recent studies, Seizing the Moment: Transferring to Jewish Day School During the Covid-19 Pandemic and The Finances of Orthodox Jewish Life: A Nishma Research Study, paint vastly different pictures of the financial dispositions and attitudes of Orthodox and non-Orthodox families about affordability. In general, middle-income Orthodox families are still overwhelmingly committed to Jewish day schools but often struggle to save money for retirement, larger living spaces or even “affordable luxuries.” Non-Orthodox Jews, by contrast, often orient their lives around strong public schools and supplemental Jewish education (Jewish camps, synagogues, JCCs) and simply don’t think a day school education is worth the high cost. Given these very different attitudes, different approaches to affordability among different populations may be warranted. 

Affordability is a key lever in Prizmah’s strategic focus on accelerating impact. We are working to help schools attract more families, improve affordability, articulate the value and impact of day schools and yeshivas, and strengthen theeducator pipeline. 

Lessons we have learned about these new models include the following.

Set clear goals and objectives.

When embarking on a new tuition model, establishing a clear set of goals and objectives is critical. While growing enrollment can certainly be one goal, greater affordability for some or all cohorts of existing families may be an equally important goal. Aligning a new tuition program with a school’s core values will only enhance its efficacy.

Affordability isn’t the only factor driving enrollment.

Affordability alone is unlikely to lead to significant increases in student enrollment and/or student retention. Schools that experience multiyear enrollment growth following the rollout of a new tuition model tend to meet some or all of the following criteria: 

  • Stable professional leadership 
  • Strong word-of-mouth within the community 
  • Solid academic reputation

Programs that have demonstrated enrollment success may still struggle to sustain the low tuition levels over time.

A program’s success does not mean it is financially sustainable for the long term. Schools will need additional donor support to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability.

Foundations, federations and schools require a data-driven approach as well as a multiyear financial model.

Both funders and schools are data-driven. They want to see and understand their own numbers and are eager to compare them to other schools and communities. They are also eager to learn about successful and unsuccessful models and the factors that impact success. Many have expressed the desire to “not recreate the wheel.” 

In considering our recent work with community initiatives, we have come to understand that funders will require a multiyear cost projection and financial model before proceeding with potential funding. Such a financial model needs to be fairly dynamic and able to adjust for changes in some or all of the following variables: student enrollment, tuition increases, tuition cap rates.

More than one-third of all Jewish day schools employ a tuition affordability model at the current time. This fall, Prizmah launched A Scholarship and Tuition Affordability Model Study, which gathers the program information, the goals and impact the affordability programs are having on schools and communities. The study will enable Prizmah to disseminate findings around existing tuition affordability models that will help schools establish even more effective models and inspire other schools and communities to consider them. 

At both the school and communal level, Prizmah seeks to enable Jewish day schools and yeshivas to explore and implement new tuition affordability models. Over the past 18 months, we have worked with more than 50 individual schools and four communities on new tuition models. We believe we are close to a tipping point in the acceptance of such programs, and that within a few years, virtually every day school and yeshiva will adapt its tuition practices to include these types of programs.

This is an exciting time for the field. There is a groundswell of interest among schools to address affordability and a ferment of initiatives that schools are experimenting with.  As more tuition affordability programs emerge, we are reaching a tipping point where affordability programs hold the promise of becoming the norm, not an exception. 

Over the next few years, Prizmah aims to catalyze the creation of at least 50 additional school-level tuition affordability programs. This will be achieved in part through our work with local federations and foundations and the myriad lay leaders that they engage with.

In our experience, school-level and community-level endowments can provide a valuable foundation for affordability efforts. Prizmah possesses significant expertise in the area of endowment building and would be more than happy to meet with your school, your federation or a group of community leaders to discuss ways in which affordability models can be implemented and sustained longer term through endowments. For more information about tuition affordability or endowment, contact Amy Adler [email protected] or Dan Perla [email protected].

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HaYidion Fall 2022 Affordability
Fall 2022
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