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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There are no legal requirements that Pell-funded study should lead to work: The Department of Education says the Pell program was founded simply “to promote access to postsecondary education.” Still, some advocates say Pell ought to be a stepping-stone for low-income students to better jobs and opportunity.

“It’s not just about creating the access to higher education,” said Heather Valentine, vice president of public policy at the Council for Opportunity in Education, which represents first-generation and low-income students.“It’s about making sure that students are… graduating and getting placed in jobs.”

It is hard to know what Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island and the other lawmakers who sponsored the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program 40 years ago — a program that became known as the Federal Pell Grant program — would make of federal funding going to support degrees in talmudic studies at Jewish religious institutions or Bible studies at Christian theological schools. But proponents of yeshiva education point out that critical thinking and argumentative skills that develop while poring over Talmud — not to mention grueling day-long study sessions broken only for prayer and meals — serve students well for careers in many professions, particularly business and law.

In her book, “Heart of the Stranger: A Portrait of Lakewood’s Orthodox Community,” Botein-Furrevig said the current CEO of BMG, Kotler’s grandson Aaron Kotler, told her that BMG has “a successful job placement service” for graduates and that many students go on to careers in “business, the rabbinate, academia, medicine, finance, law or technology.”

The refusal of BMG and its accrediting agency, the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, to speak with the Forward makes it impossible to evaluate this claim.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said that the Forward would have to submit a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act in order to see any copies of self-evaluation reports that the yeshivas submit to AARTS, the accrediting agency. But the spokesman added that a brief review of documents in the department’s electronic system did not reveal any self-studies submitted by AARTS.


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