Seven revealing facts about Jews at American colleges

Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, released its annual fall college guide earlier this month — complete with rankings of “The Top Schools Jews Choose.” The figures are estimated by campus Hillels. Here are seven takeaways.

1. University of Florida has the most Jewish students of any North American college 

University of Florida, with its 6,500 Jewish (out of 33,720 total) undergraduates, edged out other heavily Jewish public colleges, like University of Maryland and University of Michigan. Two of the top three and four of the top 20 public colleges are in Florida. The private college with the most Jews is New York University, with 6,000 (out of 24,985 total).

2. Barnard is the most-Jewish college that it not officially Jewish

Barnard College in New York, a women’s liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia University, has a higher percentage of Jewish students than all but four colleges: Yeshiva University, Jewish Theological Seminary, American Jewish University and Brandeis University — all of which have Jewish missions. The first three colleges are 100 percent Jewish; Brandeis is about half Jewish.

Thirty-three percent of Barnard’s undergrads are Jewish (800 out of 2,400 undergrads) — more than the 31 percent at runners-up Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania (750 out of 2,440 undergrads), and Goucher College in Townson, Maryland (450 out of 1,471 undergrads).

3. Yale is the most-Jewish Ivy, but Cornell has the most total Jews

Yale University’s undergrad student body is 27 percent Jewish (1,500 Jewish undergrads out of 5,477 total). Percentage-wise, it narrowly beats out its Ivy League rival Harvard University, which is 25 percent Jewish (1,675 out of 6,694 undergrads). But Cornell University and Columbia University both have more Jews in total — 3,000 and 1,800, respectively.

4. Jews love the Big Ten Conference

Six of the top 10 most-Jewish public colleges are part of the Big Ten Conference, the oldest athletic conference in the United States, with schools spanning the Midwest and East Coast. Those six colleges, in descending rank by number of Jewish students, are: Rutgers University (6,400), University of Maryland (5,800), University of Michigan (4,500), Indiana University (4,200), University of Wisconsin, Madison (4,200) and Pennsylvania State University (4,000). The other Big Ten schools among the top 50 are Michigan State University (3,500), the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (3,000) and Ohio State University (2,500).

5. McGill isn’t the top Canadian destination for Jews

That honor goes to McMaster University, a school in Ontario with the official motto “All things cohere in Christ.” McMaster boasts 3,500 Jewish undergrads; University of Western Ontario and York University each have 3,000. McGill University ranks fourth among Canadian schools, with 2,500 Jews.

6. Fifty-five of the 60 most-Jewish colleges are on the American coasts

The five inland outliers are: Tulane University in New Orleans (2,250 Jews or 27 percent of its total), Washington University in St. Louis (1,750 Jews or 24 percent of its total), Kenyon College in Ohio (275 Jews or 17 percent of its total), the University of Chicago (800 Jews or 14 percent of its total) and Earlham College in Indiana (130 Jews or 11 percent of its total). None of the colleges in the top 60 are public.

7. University of Michigan offers 120 Jewish courses — twice as many as Brandeis

University of Michigan offers the third-most Jewish college courses in the country, behind only Yeshiva University (138 courses) and Jewish Theological Seminary of America (150) — which both have 100 percent Jewish student bodies. McGill University and Ohio State University are tied for fourth, with 100 Jewish courses each.

March Madness and the Evrit Eight

The real March madness is thousands of Jewish high school seniors waiting to hear about college acceptance. And then what if they are accepted by more than one? How to decide? Since statistics show they favor certain schools, to aid their choices and soothe their jitters why not carve out a “J” Division to the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament from the 68 teams already playing in it?

Based on “Hillel’s Guide to Jewish Life on Campus” which includes the estimated total of Jewish student population at each school, an “Evrit 8” could even be bracketed: Tournament teams with the highest Jewish student enrollment. The finalists would include some tournament regulars, some who are highly ranked, and even a Cinderella.

Here’s the J Division’s

Evrit 8

1. University of Florida 8500
2. Penn State 5500
3. University of Michigan 6500*
4. Penn State 5500
5. Wisconsin 5000
6. University of Texas at Austin 4800
7. Florida State 3814
8. Ohio State 3550

On the Bubble, a tie between UCLA, Michigan State, USC—3500

Cinderella—Xavier with 45**

See ya next year—Wofford 15, BYU 0
Unfortunately no one is currently tabulating each college’s JS scoring percentage (Jewish Spouse). Maybe in June.

* If the colleges were ranked by Jewish Studies courses, Michigan would be the easy winner with around 90, and Wisconsin at #2 with around 70.

**An historically Black college that in the 1930’s hired Jewish professors who were escaping Nazi Europe.

What to do when the high price of higher education keeps getting higher

As high school seniors scramble to finish college applications and anxiously await admission decisions, their parents may be more worried about how they’re going to pay the bill.

The average annual cost for tuition, room and board, books and personal expenses at a UC campus is about $24,000. Many private colleges are twice as expensive. Tuition has been increasing faster than the rate of inflation and there is concern in the higher education community that only students from the most affluent families will be able to attend private colleges.

A number of prominent schools have taken steps to help make college more accessible to low- and middle-income families.

A number of prestigious colleges, including Amherst, Davidson, Princeton, Williams and Harvard, have decided to replace loans with grants for all students who qualify for financial aid. Harvard will no longer require families with an income under $60,000 to contribute to the cost of college, and families with incomes as high as $180,000 will pay no more than 10 percent of their income toward a Harvard education. In addition, the school will stop using home equity in determining financial need.

With the largest endowment of any college in the country, Harvard can afford to be more generous. But other schools are also making changes in financial aid policies. Administrators at Duke have also decided that parents of families with incomes below $60,000 will no longer have to contribute toward their child’s education, and if the income is under $40,000, the student will qualify to receive grants. Loans at Duke will also be reduced or capped for all students who qualify for financial aid, even those from families with incomes over $100,000.

Closer to home, Cal Tech has just announced that it is replacing loans with grants for all new students from families with incomes up to $60,000. More schools are likely to announce new financial aid initiatives in the near future.

How do parents apply for financial aid? Most colleges use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility not only for federal and state aid, but also for their own institutional aid. The FAFSA can be filed beginning Jan. 1, and within a few weeks you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The most important piece of information on the SAR is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the figure the colleges use to determine financial aid packages. The difference between your EFC and the cost of attending is your financial need.

For example, if the annual total cost of attending a school is $42,000 and your EFC is $23,000, your financial need is $19,000. The financial aid office will then assemble a package of grants, loans and a work-study job. While the most selective colleges often guarantee to meet full demonstrated need, at most schools there is a gap between the aid package and a student’s need, leaving the family to find a way to make up the difference.

Financial aid packages can vary even among similar colleges. A student’s third-choice school may offer a lot of grant money while his first-choice school’s package is primarily loans. Being able to graduate without facing years of monthly loan payments can be a great reason to move the third-choice school to the top of the list.

Many parents wonder if applying for financial aid makes a student less attractive to a college. The truth is that it depends on the school. Colleges that have a need-blind admission policy make their admissions decisions without even looking at whether a student has applied for financial aid. The UC system and most highly selective schools fall in this category. Some schools that try to be need-blind during the admissions process do consider financial need when they are taking students off a waiting list, since by that time financial aid resources have often been depleted.

Earlier is better when it comes to applying for financial aid. Most colleges have limited resources, and once the money is gone, that’s it. It’s perfectly acceptable to use your best estimates on the FAFSA and make corrections after your income tax returns have been filed.

To complete the FAFSA, visit ” target=”_blank”> A good Web site for financial aid information is

Hillel Steps Up Russia Outreach

In its 10 years of operating in the former Soviet Union, Hillel has reached thousands of Jewish students.

Now it’s trying to reach more.

The move comes as an official recently appointed to head the international Jewish campus group’s operations in Russia offered a frank assessment of Hillel’s success at reaching students.

“I cannot say we have been that effective in engaging students,” said Anna Purinson, director of Russian Hillel, arguably the largest and the most-established group here that works with Jewish college students. “Even today we come across Jewish students to whom Judaism is a shock.”

Purinson, who at 26 is a veteran of the movement, made her remarks earlier this month to participants of Hillel’s annual conference in Moscow.

Amid the festive mood of the conference, which marked Hillel’s 10th anniversary in the former Soviet Union, Purinson and other activists painted a picture of the challenges the group faces as it works to reach out to the former Soviet Union’s largely unaffiliated Jewish youth.

Hillel’s presence in the region — brought here with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – generally has had a positive impact.

The movement has a network of 27 full-time centers and a dozen affiliated youth groups devoted to bringing Judaism and Jewish experiences to young and mostly assimilated Jews in seven of the former Soviet republics.

More than 10,000 Jewish students participate annually in Hillel’s activities in the region, according to Yossi Goldman, the outgoing Jerusalem-based director of Hillel in the Former Soviet Union, who is credited with creating the network of Hillel centers in the region.

But the number of those who participate regularly in the group’s regular activities still is relatively small — and only a fraction of the 10,000 annual participants.

Osik Akselrud, who has headed Kiev’s Hillel since its founding in 1995, said his group has about 100 active members, and about 400 more regularly attend holiday events.

But there are perhaps just as large a number of Jewish students in Kiev who are not involved Jewishly in any way, Akselrud said. He recently was appointed director of Hillel in six formerly Soviet countries.

To attract more students, Hillel now is adopting a more aggressive outreach strategy.

“We are coming out into a bigger world, we will be coming to campuses, clubs and museums. We will be going to all those places where we can find Jewish students to engage more of them,” Purinson said at the opening of the conference in Moscow on Feb. 4.

Unlike in the United States, where most Hillel chapters work with Jewish students on specific campuses, Hillel in the former Soviet Union operates community-based centers that reach out to a broader student population from multiple colleges.

Avraham Infeld, president of Hillel, attended the Moscow conference. He told participants there that the Russian experience can enrich the Hillel leadership in the United States.

“After these 10 years, there is something your American counterparts can learn from you,” he told conference-goers. He made mention of a commuter college in Florida where Hillel is planning to implement a “Russian-type” operation based on the experience of Hillels in the former Soviet Union.

Ironically, the religious freedom that all of the ex-Soviet republics acquired during the past decade has translated into a challenge for Hillel: Jewish students have many more attractive options for their free time.

“A night club versus Hillel. This is a dilemma for many of these unaffiliated students that we should be talking about,” said Yevgenia Mikhaleva, the first director of Russian Hillel, who was replaced by Purinson in a major staff overhaul that affected most branches of the movement’s leadership in the region. “That is why the ‘in’ place, like Moscow or St. Petersburg Hillel, has already begun to bring some of its activities to the clubs popular with local students.”

Yasha Moz, 19, a Hillel leader in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals, said Hillel activists are scouring universities in his region looking for potential members.

“If they come across what they think is a Jewish-sounding name, they try to get in touch with the person to at least let them know they have this option to be in Hillel,” he says. “And if a newcomer isn’t ready yet to come for Shabbat, then he can play soccer or go skiing with us, or study English.”

Many of those who participate in various Hillel activities – from English classes and sports to creative workshops and Jewish holidays celebrations – have to go an extra mile to become part of the movement.

Purinson recalled how a Moscow student recently came to the local Hillel office wanting to join the group.

“She found us in the Yellow Pages,” Purinson said.

But those who already are active believe that taking the extra step is well worth it.

“I’m getting a huge emotional charge in Hillel,” Moz said. “But I know that in my city there is a huge number of kids who can’t get this, who can’t share this sense of pride with me.”

The answer, Purinson said, is to make the group more effective in attracting new members.

“And to meet these new challenges Hillel should be more resourceful in turning professional. It simply has to improve, or it will lose out to other non-Jewish options that exist,” Purinson said.