Back to School: A Path to Sustainability

Published: 
August 27, 2018

Source: The LehrHaus 

 

September is nearly upon us. As the school year begins anew, the “tuition crisis” is front and center. Shabbat table talk is dominated once again by exasperated adults bemoaning the economic burden of day school tuition…

Broadly speaking, the overarching challenge to the educational ecosystem, which it shares with the independent school landscape, is the fundamental fragility of the JDS business model. Costs have risen steadily over the last decade. This upturn is largely related to increased compensation costs due to the uptick in total educator and administrative compensation and benefits. What is more, given heightened academic expectations and regulatory requirements, there are more adults in the school building today relative to the number of students than ever before. Our senior administrative leadership is asked to achieve the near impossible: maintain excellent faculties, administrative staff, and facilities and oversee a spectrum of extracurricular programming, while at the same time deliver a flat budget…

And while some might suggest abandoning the JDS model, I very much agree that day school education is invaluable, and is the premier immersive environment for ensuring connectivity to the Jewish community and to Jewish values for the next generation. While other immersive experiences such as Birthright trips, overnight summer camps, and youth programming also play a critical role in enhancing the connectivity of Jewish youth, research underscores that day schools and yeshiva educations provide the strongest incubators for continued attachment to the Jewish community and preparing the next generation of Jewish leaders…

We return, then, to the seemingly interminable question of how to proceed. We may begin with the assertion that many of the classical proposed solutions simply do not suffice…

We need a systemic response to this national communal challenge. While day school funding is currently hyper-local, the future of our community depends on moving away from the “I donate to my school” model. Cross-denominational funding initiatives leverage more dollars to secure broader and deeper results. In the endowment arena, matching incentive programs which leverage funds from large donors increase total dollars flowing back to schools. Communities with a defined number of schools can start with a regional perspective, bringing together local funders to build the future of our joint communities….

What else can we do to impact the high cost of day school tuition? The most viable solution is evidenced by New York University’s recent unexpected announcement of free tuition for all current and future medical students, “regardless of need or merit.” NYU said that the rationale for the impressive initiative was the recognition of “a moral imperative that must be addressed” given the crippling debt burdening today’s medical school graduates. Yet a closer examination of NYU’s strategic initiative also reveals lessons that can be fruitfully applied to day school tuition. How did NYU do it? In one word: endowment….

Many universities and independent schools have long understood that endowments are a critical feature of a business model that helps ensure the sustainability of an academic institution. Beyond the potential to lower tuition, endowment funds at day schools ensure a third stream of revenue in addition to tuition and annual fundraising. They also allow schools to better weather difficult economic times…

There is no magic bullet to “solve” the affordability crisis. But since it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we transmit our tradition and values from generation to generation, we must strategize, plan, and attract new investors to the day school system, all with the objective of yielding sustainable day schools and yeshivot for years to come. We cannot simply focus on this year and next year’s budget; we need to play the long game. The long-term sustainability of day schools and yeshivot should be on the communal agenda as a key component of a solution to a core communal challenge. And the best players are playing the endowment game.

Read the entire article at the LehrHaus

Updated: Oct. 03, 2018
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