(JTA) — Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito, Calif., had a problem.
Like many Jewish day schools throughout North America, Tehiyah has plenty of students from lower-income families and a number from affluent ones. But it couldn’t seem to recruit and retain many middle-class students, even as it devoted increasing amounts to financial aid.
Middle-class parents “felt they wouldn’t be considered for financial aid or were just on the border of whether they could get aid,” said Bathea James, Tehiyah’s head of school. “For many who felt they were reasonably financially successful, to fill out a financial aid form just wasn’t something they’d be willing to consider.”
So last year, James tried a new strategy: Instead of posting a single tuition price and urging those who couldn’t afford it to apply for a scholarship, the school now posts a tuition range, from $7,950 to $22,450 for the 2014-15 academic year.
Known as indexed tuition, the plan permits parents to pay reduced tuition. To qualify for lower amounts, parents still must submit financial forms not entirely unlike what was required in the old aid application.
So the change is more about presentation than substance. But James said something about the system feels different.
“It’s a door opener for middle-income families,” she said. “They say if it’s based on what I can afford, let’s at least have a look at it.”
In response to mounting concerns about the increasing affordability of Jewish education, day schools across North America are experimenting with new approaches to tuition and financial aid.
Some, like Oakland Hebrew Day School in California, have introduced indexed tuition models, sometimes also referred to as “flex” or “sliding scale” tuition. Others have moved to cap tuition as a percentage of family income.
The Solomon Schechter School of Greater Boston launched its iCap program in the 2012-13 term that guarantees a family will never be required to spend more than 15 percent of its household income on tuition. It means families with incomes as high as $400,000 – more than four times the median household income in Massachusetts – can still be eligible for financial aid if they have three or more children enrolled and have assets under a certain threshold.