By Steve Freedman

Jewish day schools across the country share a mission to educate as many Jewish children in their community as they can. They also share the challenge of finding creative ways to address affordability, reducing barriers to entry, while staying fiscally responsible to their institution.

More than two years ago, Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit launched a new tuition grant program to address affordability for families who are not eligible for tuition assistance, but who nevertheless worry about the high cost of tuition. In partnership with a major local foundation, the Hillel Tuition Grant program, for first through eighth graders, not only insures that tuition will never be higher than the first year a child enters Hillel, but that it will actually decrease in each subsequent year. Each year, through eighth grade, the value of the grant goes up by $1,000.

In its first year (2015), full tuition was $17,975, and families eligible for the grant paid only $16,975 per child. This year, tuition was $19,070, and eligible families paid only $16,070 per child, a savings of $3,000 for each, and less than they paid in the first year of the program.  Ours has been a test case for schools, and has been endorsed by Pat Bassett, the former President of National Association of Independent Schools.

We are now three years into the program, and assessing the grant’s effectiveness. We are in discussions with the foundation about continuing to offer these savings to our incoming 2017 first grade students, and any other lateral enrollees. We also engaged the services of Chudnoff Associates to survey our parents, whose feedback could inform the decision as to whether to move forward or not.

Of the 44% of families eligible for the grant, all but 14% have opted-in. In fact, few families actually pay the full tuition. In 2015, Hillel had been experiencing a slow but steady 15 year decline in enrollment. Since the inception of the grant, the decline not only stopped, but we have also enjoyed two consecutive years of modest gains, and expect 2017-18 to be another year of growth.

Participating parents have a high appreciation of the grant program, and several families indicated they would not be able to afford Hillel without it, potentially impacting 50 students.

An interesting side benefit was that 40% of participating families indicated that the grant has enabled them to redirect resources to other Jewish activities such as Jewish summer camp programs, Israel trips and synagogue dues.

One caveat to the data — and something we are pondering — is that our attrition was very low even before the grant – 4% on average. This past year our attrition was 3.4%. Our attrition rate has essentially stayed the same.  We can’t really know whether or not the 50 students would have actually left without the grant because our historical numbers would indicate otherwise. We do know that our decline stopped, and enrollment has grown. That is very significant in Detroit, a community that is known to be the second oldest Jewish community in the nation. We have a small pool of children to draw from, and yet, we remain one of the largest day schools in the country with an ECC-8th grade enrollment of 550 students.

Those of us who have been working closely on this grant believe that it has made a difference — and that the impact is only beginning.  This coming year, tuition will be $19,795 and eligible families in the fourth year of the grant will pay only $15,795 – $1,180 less than they paid in tuition three years ago.

The purpose of the grant becomes more powerful each year; eligible families, dedicated to Hillel Day School receive a larger grant each year, rewarding their loyalty, and providing families increasing financial relief as their children get older — and those of us who are parents know, expenses rise as children grow up! At Hillel, our parents are becoming vocal advocates of this grant, and we expect that its message will resonate with prospective higher-income families who are not eligible for financial assistance, and that they will consider Hillel Day School.

A Jewish day school education has a disproportionate positive impact on the Jewish community; we believe that it is in the larger Jewish community’s best interest that Hillel, and other Jewish day schools, in addition to offering financial assistance, develop and sustain programs that assist the middle- and higher-income families that are stressed over maintaining the quality of life they work hard for, while investing in day school education.

This article was originally posted on the Hillel Day School Head of School Blog. It is reposted with permission.