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Special to the JTA Aa Je Finds Tuition Fee Increases in Congregational Schools Have Lagged Far Behin

September 4, 1979
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The American Association for Jewish Education (AAJE) disclosed this week that rises in tuition fees charged by Jewish congregational schools have lagged for behind increases in the cost of living over the past nine years to the point where such fees now represent only 10 percent of the cost of educating a student.

Reporting on a nationwide survey on tuition scales and policies which it conducted during the 1978-79 academic year, the AAJE said that since 1969-70 (the last time it undertook a study in this area), the cost of living rose more than 21/2 times as much as did tuition fees in primary, elementary and high school classes of one-two-and three-day-a-week congregational schools.

The survey by the AAJE’s Department of Community Services, Information and Studies analyzed findings from 266 selected congregational, day and communal schools in 46 American and Canadian communities. Its analysis, according to Department director Dr. George Pollak, “strongly indicates that as the gap between income and expenses continues to widen for congregational schools, these schools will be compelled to make hard decisions affecting their educational quality, fiscal accountability and perhaps even synagogal autonomy.”

Pollak said certain options which would seem apparent to schools in such circumstances– those of either raising tuition fees or cutting operational costs — “are in fact apt to be regarded as counterproductive. The first incurs the risk of discouraging school enrollment and congregational membership,” he said , “while the second, involving the watering down of staff and depletion of staffing needs, carries with it the seeds of destruction for Jewish education.


As a result, Pollak said more and more congregational schools will have to begin considering such alternative courses of action as intra-and trans-denominational school mergers for greater educational and fiscal efficiency, increased appeals to local Federations for subsidies or allocations, and new fundraising approaches conducted either independently o{SPAN}###{/SPAN} a coordinated community education campaign.

Pollak declared that the American Jewish community “must soon come to grips with the issue of where the fiscal responsibility for congregational education lies if it is to prevent irretrievable damage to the financial foundations of the Jewish educational enterprise.” He said it must determine “whether the increase of tuition fees is truly a deterrent to school enrollment or merely a phantom fear, what should be the admission policies of various-sized schools regarding the children of non-members, and what are the implications for synagogue auspices should the community become involved in funding congregational education.”


The AAJE survey found that while the cost of living rose 78 percent over the past nine years, tuition fees in congregational schools (exclusive of nursery and kindergarten classes) increased only 30.3 percent. The average tuition fee charged by these schools last year, covering primary through high school grades, was slightly more than $78. Concomitantly, tuition fees rose 26.8 percent in three-day-a-week schools, resulting in average tuition charges of $42, $85 and $107, respectively, for 1978-79.

The survey also disclosed that 73.6 percent of the reporting congregational schools require tuition fees for children of members, a slight increase from the 68 percent recorded in the 1969-70 study; 65 percent of the schools restrict enrolment to the children of congregational members — a surprising increase, in light of their growing financial need, over the 53 percent which followed such a policy in 1969-70; 89 percent of the schools which admit non-affiliated children charge higher tuition fees for their education.

According to the survey, only 18 percent of the reporting schools receive some form of communal subsidy; tuition fees levied by larger schools tend to be higher than those charged by smaller schools, and tuition fees are usually reduced for each additional child from the same family.

With respect to day schools, the survey showed that tuition fee increases during the period examined were 107 percent for primary grades, 98 percent for elementary grades and 124 percent for high school grades, resulting in an overall rise of 110.3 percent since 1969-70. The average tuition fees at these levels last year were $1222, $1268 and $1610, respectively. As with congregational schools, tuition fees tend to be reduced when parents enroll more than one child in a day school, such reductions ranging from 4 percent to 13 percent.

The average tuition fees of communal schools are higher at all grade levels than those in congregational schools. For example, the survey showed tuition in two-day a-week schools is $124 (communal) as against $107 (congregational) at the primary level, $354 (communal) as against $75 (congregational) at the elementary level and $139 (communal) as against $74 (congregational) at the high school level.

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