AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Middle Income Affordability Programs: Early Results and Some Scholarship Anomalies

Posted by: dperla

November 25, 2013

By: Dan Perla
I first began to write about middle income tuition programs two years ago. In my first article on the subject, I wrote about nascent efforts in communities such as Boston, LA, Montreal and MetroWest, New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, I profiled Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston’s middle income program, iCap, a program which caps tuition at no more than 15% of a family’s pre-tax income. Most middle income tuition programs seek to improve enrollment and/or retention of middle income families by offering them some sort of discount off full tuition.  Many of these programs are geared toward families earning $150,000-$300,000 per year, a typical middle income level for many Jewish day schools across the country.
The four communal middle income programs referenced above now provide tuition relief to at least 1,000 students annually. More significantly, where middle income affordability programs existed in just a handful of communities two years ago, they now exist or will shortly exist in at least a dozen communities across the U.S and Canada as diverse as Dallas, Texas and Oakland, California. Over the past year, I have worked with schools and central agencies in communities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York and Toronto on the development of middle income programs. Several of the schools in these communities plan to introduce middle income programs for the 2014-2015 school year. Among these, Beit Rabban and Robbins Hebrew Academy will participate in an upcoming AVI CHAI middle income pilot program. The pilot is based on the iCap approach pioneered by Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston.
It is premature to state definitively that the existing programs have been successful at improving retention and/or growing enrollment. It is equally important to consider the early results of these programs in the context of the decline nationally in non-Orthodox day school enrollment. Total enrollment at Jewish day schools in Montreal is still essentially flat. Enrollment in Metrowest, New Jersey is fairly stable but still not growing. Following a modest uptick in enrollment in the first year of the program, enrollment in year two of the program at Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston is essentially flat. Still, school and community leaders believe that these programs have created positive buzz in their communities and that enrollment, absent these programs, would likely be far worse. In other words, these schools may still be doing better than their peer group.
It may be worth highlighting an interesting anomaly between Orthodox and non-Orthodox schools in terms of their approach to offering tuition discounts to middle income families. Based on an analysis of scholarship awards at approximately a dozen schools, it appears that non-Orthodox schools offer relatively more tuition discount or scholarship to one child families and relatively less to larger families. In the scholarship data that I examined, it was not uncommon to see significant tuition discounts given to middle income families who had just one child enrolled in a school. When queried about this practice, a number of the non-Orthodox schools explained that they sometimes use scholarship as an inducement to “get a family in the door.” Orthodox schools, by and large, eschew this practice and deem middle income families eligible for scholarship only when two or more children are enrolled in their school and the tuition burden is greater. One ramification of this anomaly is that non-Orthodox schools wind up spending a significant percentage of their scholarship dollars on families with one child. For some of them, retention becomes a problem as family size grows.
As middle income tuition programs proliferate, it will be important to monitor whether the programs lead to greater retention of middle income families in day schools. It will be equally interesting to see the impact on enrollment of new families. One thing is certain with respect to these programs. What was once a trickle of programs is quickly becoming a downpour.
Andria Weil, President of Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston, talks about their iCap program in the following video:
Dan Perla is AVI CHAI’s program officer for day school finance.

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