Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Minding the Gap

Kaplan PSAT/SAT 20hrs of private tutoring = $2,599
Kaplan SAT Class, 8 lessons (approx. 20 hours) = $499
Gymnastics Class, 1 session (50 minutes) per week @ $75/month x 9 months = $675
Tennis Lessons, with Junior Pro, $75/hr x 30 weeks = $2,250

Jewish education = it's always too much (according to the parents).

When Jewish education institutions provide high-quality, high-impact programming to children and their families, somehow we can never charge what it is exactly costing us to implement the programs, much less to even make a little profit to invest in other agency programs.

For example, one program I know of costs a community bewteen $1200-$1800 per teen (depending on enrollment numbers) to run the program. It takes place two and a half hours per week, 25-30 weeks a year, with highly respected teaching faculty, social breaks with breakfast or lunch, a few parent programs, and occasional guest speakers. However, the agency that runs the program feels that the parents won't pay anything more than $400 per year. (BTW, this comes out to about $5.75 per hour - less than babysitting these days!) How do we mind (aka fund) this gap?

There are only two ways to do it (that I know of - suggestions welcome):
a) Philanthropists
b) Change the culture of what families will pay for services

I will leave the discussion of philanthropists and turn to the issue of parents and financial priorities.

When we know parents are making significant financial investments in non-Jewish activities like SAT Prep and Tennis Lessons (itemized above), how do we make the case for investing these dollars in Jewish education? How do we convince them that they should pay more for quality Jewish education than they do for babysitting? and even for SAT prep courses? How do we articulate the need for their children to have a Jewish education in order to have a solid future (which seems to be how they view the other activities)?

In most circles, it would articulated that parents have been trained (over generations) to not pay for Jewish education because:
a) congregations/agencies wanted to limit the barriers to participation so they began offering low-cost portals;
b) the quality has been collectively so poor over the years that consumers don't want to invest significant dollars; and
c) we haven't made the case, again over generations, that Judaism is critical to a successful future

In some ways, it might now be a self-fulfilling "prophecy" and it could now be "chicken-and-the-egg." Meaning, we now have fixedness (see SIT) in terms of our budgets and therefore we assume we can't offer something new, something risky, something innovative and something with high(er)-expenses attached to it. I sometimes hear my colleagues be stifled in their imagination simply because the budget won't support it. And because we don't offer new and imaginative programs filled with "surprise and delight" (thank you Amy Sales for that phrase!) we perpetuate the stigma of passe (aka boring) religious education programs.

And, on the flip side, the more innovative and creative we are, the more we include immersion and experiential techniques into our offerings, the more the programs cost - and for now we can't turn that cost over as a direct fee-for-service. Caught in the paradox!

I am not sure how we address the issue of convincing parents that Judaism is critical to a successful future, but I know we aren't paying attention to this important issue. It should be on the agenda of Jewish education change agents to somehow combat this part of the gap. We have to collectively work to alter the perception and create a universal brand message about role of Judaism in life-long success (and certainly worth more than babysitting!) and therefore worth the financial investment to have quality Jewish experiences.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this gap between what it costs to run amazing Jewish education experiences and what we are charging ... and somehow we have to mind this gap and not perpetuate it.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, you are asking the wrong question.

You ask "how (do) we address the issue of convincing parents that Judaism is critical to a successful future".

Perhaps the question needs to be restated this way "how do we address the issue of convincing parents that a strong Jewish identity for their children is critical to a successful future for Judiasm."

Clearly there are many successful people in this country that have gone through the traditional (yet boring and ineffective) religious school programs and free jewish youth group experiences. The issue you are trying to solve for these parents should not be how to make their children successful in the secular world. They are already doing that with their SAT prep courses which have a direct relationship on college entrance exams and therefore secular future.

As I see it, you need to convince them to invest in the future of Judiasm. No doubt these new innovative ways you are using can help to strengthen a persons Jewish identity. Also not a far stretch to assume that more people with strong Jewish identity will help Judiasm.

Rebecca said...

I want to put a vote in for Robyn's question: "how do we address the issue of convincing parents that Judaism is critical to a successful future."

I agree with Robyn - we need to position Jewish education as filling out a child's education. That without a Jewish education, a Jewish child does not learn everything s/he needs to know to be a responsible, compassionate, friend and citizen. Jewish education offers rootedness, an ethical home base, norms of values. We need to pitch to parents that without this part of a child's education, she's not realizing her potential.