by Shari Weinberger
There have been a flurry of articles and blog-posts this summer about Hebrew schools and their efficacy. Meanwhile, enrollment in post-bnai mitzvah programs in synagogues and community schools has been steadily declining across the country. Professionals in the field have been working hard to figure out the why’s, where’s, and what-can-we-do’s. Some reasons posited have been lack of parental commitment, synagogue membership decline, lack of community support or funding, over-programming of teens and the high cost of teen programming.
Recently the North American Association of Community and Congregational High Schools (NAACCHHS) ran a survey to ascertain how expensive Hebrew high school tuition is nationwide and to gauge cost as a factor in plummeting enrollment. Currently there are 38 NAACCHHS member schools. Our representative sample came from 31 of them, representing a wide range of Jewish communities from across the continent, with a wide range of enrollment, ranging from large to small. The information gleaned from this survey helps us understand how much it costs for teens to participate in supplemental teen Jewish education.
There is a huge range in the cost of supplemental Hebrew high schools. One school offers the program for free to participating synagogue members. The most expensive school charges $2994. The median annual tuition was $819.
Most programs run for a full school year (25 – 30 weeks) and require families to pay for a full year of tuition. While many schools offer payment plans and financial aid, families are still required to pay for the whole year, regardless of how many times a student attends. And while most programs are similar in the number of weeks they meet during the year they differ in the number of hours classes are held each week. The majority (2/3) run two-hour programs, but some are one hour programs and some offer as many as 7.5 hours of class per week. In order to compare tuition more fairly, the tuition data was adjusted for a two-hour program. Adjusting for a two-hour program, the schools who responded have a median tuition of $634. Whether we adjust the figures for two hours or look at the actual hours a school program meets, the mean and mode stayed the same at $513 and $500 respectively.
In looking for patterns, there were few to be found. The most expensive program did not mean the program with the most hours or the most students. While the least expensive program has only 15 students, the third least expensive has 59 students and the fourth least expensive has 70. Similarly, while the most expensive program has 365 students, the second most expensive has only 40 students. The more expensive programs seemed to be coastal with NY/NJ metro area, Philadelphia and Coral Gables, Florida topping the east coast, and LA and the Bay Area topping the west coast. This makes sense when the high cost of living in these areas is taken into account.
The cost of tuition does not reflect on the quality of the program. All NAACCHHS schools offer a wide range of classes and an endless array of topics and subjects. Many offer Hebrew for either high school or college credit. In addition to classes, many programs include perks such as trips, retreats, college tutoring, driving classes and counseling.
So why is there such a differential in tuition? Only five of the 31 programs responded that their program is fully funded by tuition. Most schools receive an allocation from the community and do additional fundraising. Some do substantial fundraising. However, the five whose programs are fully-funded by tuition were not the most expensive, and ran the full range with tuition from as low as $360 to as high as $800.
NAACCHHS is further investigating the correlation between the per-student budget cost and tuition, and also how the number of hours a director works correlates to the cost of tuition.
Tuition cost was not found to be a factor in family decisions to enroll teens in Jewish supplemental education. Even low-cost programs are experiencing declining student enrollment numbers. As overall affiliation declines, so too do the number of teens entering programs from “feeder” synagogue religious schools. To this end, in the coming weeks, NAACCHHS directors will be discussing strategies to recruit students from unaffiliated households.
About: NAACCHHS is a professional organization of directors of Jewish supplemental teen educational programs. In its 8th year, NAACCHHS is an invaluable resource for community and congregational Hebrew high schools. With representation from all corners of the continent and plenty of cities in the places in between, NAACCHHS provides professional development and support. With an active listserv and curriculum bank, NAACCHHS supports school and program directors, including mentoring for new members, weekly conference calls, monthly webinars and an annual in-person conference.
For more information about NAACCHHS membership, or about this survey, please direct your questions to Shari Weinberger, NAACCHHS Director, or visit our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/411220532255223/