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As with Tehiyah’s indexed tuition, iCap isn’t actually costing the school any more money; most families would receive similar assistance had they applied for financial aid under the traditional system. But it does help with sticker shock, particularly for families who by national standards are far from poor but still struggle to cover the cost of a Jewish day school education.
“Most families in that high-end income bracket don’t even imagine they would qualify for a scholarship,” said Dan Perla, program officer for day school finance at the Avi Chai Foundation. The iCap program, he said, “makes it really easy and really transparent.”
Another Boston school, Maimonides, is introducing a version of the program next year. And the Avi Chai Foundation is helping two other day schools – Beit Rabban in Manhattan and the Robbins Hebrew Academy in Toronto – pilot similar efforts.
Some schools are developing elaborate and sometimes costly discounts designed not just to attract new families but to reduce attrition.
Hillel Day School in suburban Detroit is launching a “tuition subvention” program in 2014-15 that provides a tuition credit to each student that increases by $1,000 each year they stay in the school, regardless of family income.
Milwaukee Day School tried a similar approach, offering tuition discounts that continue each year a student remains in the school. The strategy resulted in the enrollment of 55 new students last year – one of the largest increases ever seen by the school, according to Head of School Brian King.
But the incentive, which was a one-time offer available only to students enrolled at the school during the 2012-13 academic year, failed to arrest the school’s long-term decline in enrollment. The school currently has 190 students, down from last year’s 208.
One approach Perla and other experts generally discourage is across-the-board tuition cuts, which they say can be financially unsustainable and do not lead to long-term enrollment gains. A recent study of 200 schools conducted by Measuring Success, a consulting firm specializing in data analysis for non-profits, found that contrary to conventional wisdom, raising tuition does not lead to decreased enrollment.
In addition, many point to the experience of several Cleveland-area Jewish day schools that collectively decreased tuition in the early 2000s without seeing an increase in enrollment or fundraising revenues in the years that followed.
Two of the schools eventually raised tuition again and now are initiating more modest incentives, providing discounts for Jewish communal professionals and families that recruit other families.