New YU Initiative Aims to Stop Rising Tuition Costs


tuitionThe following article by Michael Orbach appears in this week’s The Jewish Star:
At least one local school reports tuition payments are down at least seven to 10 percent this year, according to Yeshiva University’s new National School Affordability Initiative.
“Everyone is hurting, no one is unscathed,” Eli Shapiro, the regional coordinator for the Affordability Initiative, told The Jewish Star by phone on Friday.Shapiro added that general tuition for most high schools and elementary schools usually only covers 70 percent of the budget; the remaining 30 percent derives from contributions.

“No one knows how far down that is,” explained Shapiro, who is also a social worker and a doctoral fellow at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education.

Despite the grim prognosis, The National School Affordability Initiative, a joint venture of the YU Institute for University/School Partnership and YU’s Center for the Jewish Future is the one generally bright spot in a dim year. The Initiative, whose founding preceded the crisis but whose official launch was this past fall, aims to stop the rise of what many consider impossibly high tuition cost. The pilot program is set for the Five Towns and Far Rockaway.

“We looked at the Five Towns uniquely because of the heavy Wall Street presence and schools spanning a wide [religious] array from HAFTR to Darchei and TAG,” said Dr. Scott Goldberg, Director of the Institute for University School partnership at YU.

Goldberg emphasized the holistic aspect of the project of making schools affordable, noting that despite what many consider to be high tuition, it still doesn’t cover the full cost of education.

So far a number of local schools have taken advantage of the Initiative and participated in meetings focused on ways of reducing costs. After the first meeting in December, three areas were specified: increasing availability of cash infusions from foundations, a kehillah (congregation) model of contribution that stressed donations from individuals not related to the school that was used successfully in Chicago, and joint and discount purchasing plans for the schools.

“We’re sort of a clearing house for opportunities to make schools more affordable,” Shapiro quipped.

Shapiro stressed that the initiative is focused on “research-based data-driven practices,” be it hiring one full-time teacher instead of multiple part-time teachers or working with community Rabbis to make yeshivas a communal fiscal priority. The Initiative worked alongside Teach NYS last week to set up a lobbying trip to Albany to urge elected officials to reinstate close to $1 million in funding to private schools that Governor Paterson cut out of this year’s budget.

It seems that the old cheder model may be on its way out. Yeshiva day schools, after years of being unable to cope with rising cost, are slowly entering the 21st century. Part of the Federal government’s new stimulus package, Shapiro noted, is for energy conservation technologies in schools, which yeshivas may be able to take advantage of.

“It’s the business of education,” he said.

{The Jewish Star/ Newscenter}