Yeshivas Score Huge Pell Grant Windfall

Jewish Religious Colleges Get Tens of Millions in Federal Aid

Tax Dollars for Talmud: Jewish colleges are among the leading religious institutions receiving federal Pell Grant funding.
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Tax Dollars for Talmud: Jewish colleges are among the leading religious institutions receiving federal Pell Grant funding.

By Paul Berger

Published October 31, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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Mark Schneider, a visiting scholar in education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said that if graduates of black colleges appeared to be trapped in the same cycle of poverty, “people would tear their hair out.”

Schneider, a former U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics at the Department of Education, added that for this reason, it is important to find out the income and job placement figures to see how students are benefiting.

In fact, such figures are hard to come by. Jewish schools and the Jewish accrediting agency that certifies their eligibility for Pell grants declined to speak to the Forward. And the Department of Education said it did not have any of the data on job placement, graduation rates and other important measurements that these schools produce for the accrediting agency as part of their self-evaluation process.

For its review, the Forward used data from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. Religiously affiliated schools were selected via a classification system developed by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education for “theological seminaries, bible colleges and other faith-related institutions.” The definition excludes schools such as Brandeis, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Yeshiva University, which are religiously sponsored but offer a mostly secular curriculum.

In 2010, according to figures from the NCES’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 76% of undergraduate students at Beth Medrash Govoha, in Lakewood, N.J. — 2,000 students — were on Pell grant aid. That same year, the average percentage of undergraduates at the country’s 152 religiously affiliated schools who received Pell grants was 47%; however, at eight yeshivas and Jewish seminaries, between 91% and 100% of students qualified for Pell grants.

Jewish schools also occupied the top three places in terms of total Pell grant aid in 2010: Uta Mesivta of Kiryas Joel, in Monroe, N.Y., received $5.9 million; United Talmudical Seminary, in Brooklyn, received $6.4 million. And at BMG, one of the largest yeshivas in the United States, students received Pell grants totaling $10.5 million.

When Rabbi Aharon Kotler opened BMG in 1943, he did so with the goal of realizing his dream of Torah lishmo — study for the sake of study — rather than study for the sake of a career, according to Ali Botein-Furrevig, an Ocean County College professor who has written a book about the Lakewood Jewish community.


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