Each year, tens of millions of dollars in federal Pell grants go to yeshivas, many of which focus primarily on Talmud study, a Forward review of U.S. Department of Education data reveals.
The Jewish colleges take their place among many other religion-oriented schools that receive Pell grant funds. But they punch far above their weight, according to the department’s statistics. Sixty-three of the 152 religious institutions that receive Pell grants are Jewish, the data shows. And these Jewish schools collectively received 53% of the $84.5 million in Pell grant money that went to religious schools in 2010, the most recent year for which final figures are available. Of the top 10 Pell grant recipients in dollar terms that year, six were yeshivas.
Jewish institutions were even more dominant when considered in terms of the percentage of students in each school receiving Pell grant aid; nine of the top 10 colleges in America, according to this criterion, are Jewish.
Pell grants, the government’s largest tuition aid program for low-income students, totaled $35 billion in 2011, making the sum going to religious schools a virtual drop in the bucket. About 9.5 million students received a Pell grant that year, with $5,550 being the maximum available for students to apply to their tuitions, depending on need.
Despite the program’s focus on aiding low-income students and the hope that it will improve their career prospects, there appears to be little oversight of yeshiva degree programs and few questions about whether the yeshivas are helping to haul low-income Jewish students out of dire economic straits. A recent study by UJA-Federation of New York found that Orthodox families were a rising demographic in the New York Jewish community, the nation’s largest, but suffered significantly higher poverty rates than non-Orthodox Jews.