Pell grants, the government’s largest tuition aid program for low-income students, totaled $35 billion in 2011. About 9.5 million students received a Pell grant that year, with $5,550 being the maximum available for students to apply to their tuitions, an extensive review by the Forward of U.S. Department of Education data reveals.
According to the department’s statistics, 53% of the religious schools and sixty-three of the 152 religious institutions that received Pell grants in 2010 are Jewish. Of the top 10 Pell grant recipients in dollar terms that year, six were yeshivas, the Forward reported. The data also showed that Jewish institutions were even more dominant when considered in terms of the percentage of students in each school receiving Pell grant aid; nine of the top 10 colleges in America, according to this criterion, are Jewish.
Questioning the oversight of the yeshiva degree and how it benefits low-income Jewish students in advancing a career, the Forward contacted the Department of Education to get some figures on job placements, graduation rates and other measurements needed to qualify for the grant, but its request was turned down.
The Forward went further in its attempt to dismiss the significance of Talmudic scholarship and argumentative skills that develop during rigorous Talmud study, and to draw outrage among non-Jewish religious groups, by cherry picking used data from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
In 2010, according to figures from the NCES’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 76% of undergraduate students at Beth Medrash Govoha, in Lakewood, N.J. — 2,000 students — were on Pell grant aid. That same year, the average percentage of undergraduates at the country’s 152 religiously affiliated schools who received Pell grants was 47%; however, at eight yeshivas and Jewish seminaries, between 91% and 100% of students qualified for Pell grants.
Jewish schools also occupied the top three places in terms of total Pell grant aid in 2010: UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel, in Monroe, N.Y., received $5.9 million; United Talmudical Seminary, in Brooklyn, received $6.4 million; and at BMG, the largest yeshiva in the United States, students received Pell grants totaling $10.5 million.
In her book, “Heart of the Stranger: A Portrait of Lakewood’s Orthodox Community,” Dr. Alice Botein-Furrevig quoted the current CEO of Beth Medrash Govoha, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, as telling 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.”
To the president’s credit, the Pell program has grown dramatically under the Obama administration, to $35.7 billion this year from $18.3 billion in 2008. Both President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney have vowed to maintain present levels of Pell spending. Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst with the New America Foundation’s education policy program told the Forward that the Obama administration has tried to curb spending abuse by introducing regulations that assess whether colleges provide “gainful employment” to their students. But these regulations apply only to for-profit colleges and would not apply to religious, not-for-profit schools.
The Forward called the top five Jewish institutions, which received a total of $27 million in Pell grants in 2010, to ask about their graduation and job placement figures.
Representatives of United Talmudical Seminary and UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel did not return calls for comment. Representatives of BMG and of Yeshivath Viznitz declined to speak to the Forward because, they said, the news organization has a bias against the ultra-Orthodox.