Sunday, August 2, 2009

Competition in Education Part 2: The Recruiting Mess

In this post, I noted how the opening of a new four-year Hesder program was simply an attempt by the Hesder Yeshivot to compete with and take students from post-High school mechinah programs.
This weekend's Mekor Rishon featured an article titled "High School Seniors Feel Like Kids in a Candy Store." Not a good sign if you're trying to run and recruit for a serious yeshiva. (I have scanned the article, as Mekor Rishon does not allow for linking. Click on the article to see it in full size.)
Last week, approximately fifty representatives from high schools, Hesder yeshivot and other educational institutions gathered to try and find some way to help high school seniors make good decisions about where they'll plan on studying during the following year. Currently, there are 59 Hesder yeshivot, 15 Mechinot, 16 Yeshivot Gevohot (that are not connected to army service), and numerous other post-high school programs and other army/educational tracks. A high school administrator put it this way: there are about 180 school days during the year. If 100 yeshivot want to send a representative to the school, on the first day, the kids are willing to listen. On the tenth day, they're already heard it. By the twentieth day, they're falling asleep. Even more troubling is the damage that this causes to the standing of the Roshei Yeshivot, who find themselves pandering to students hoping to attract them to their yeshiva. How can a student truly respect a Rosh Yeshiva who needs to almost be that student to attend? Moreover, how is a student supposed to decide what yeshiva to attend? How can these yeshivot possibly differentiate themselves? Are there really 59 different and unique Hesder yeshivot?

According to the article, it has gotten so bad that one yeshiva actually offered potential students a jeep-tour to entice them to come visit the yeshiva - which doesn't really surprise me. At the end of the day, a yeshiva is a place to learn full-time, with hopefully good teachers who will be positive role-models and good educators. They can't all be that different. So how else are they supposed to attract students?
The group of educators did decide to hold a fair where all the yeshivot will set up booths and present their yeshiva to potential students. Which is fine, I guess. But I doubt that many of the students will leave the fair with any better sense of where they want to study than they did before the fair.
On a practical level, the high schools need to start giving formal Yeshiva guidance - very much like college and yeshiva guidance in America. They need to act as filters for the schools, so that they can at least give their students a sense of direction.
At the same time, there need to be fewer yeshivot. Does Israel really need 59 Hesder yeshivot? Would it be better for there to be 30, with each yeshiva having double the students? (In 1990 there were 15 Hesder yeshivot, 25 in 1995, 44 in 1999, and now 59. That's a pretty staggering growth rate. A little too staggering.)
Rabbis open yeshivot because they want to move up in the world. They've taught for a certain number of years, and now they want their own place. So they open a yeshiva, put out a shingle, and try and attract students.
And, as I've written before and will continue to write about in future posts, what attracts high school seniors is almost never the best education. High school seniors care about a lot of things, but not always which yeshiva will work them the hardest, be the most challenging, and make them the best person they can be.
Sometimes, all a high school senior really wants is a jeep ride. And with competition the way it is now (and not changing anytime soon), if anything, the future holds more recruiting jeep rides, and not less.