By: Avi Strauss | Features  | 

Review of Morning Programs since 2008 Shows IBC Rises to 25% of Undergraduate Torah Studies Students, JSS on Growth Trajectory

A review of enrollment in the four Wilf Undergraduate Torah Studies Programs by The Commentator has revealed several trends in the overall makeup of the morning programs.

Overall, the Wilf student body population has lost a net of 170 students in the last ten years, dropping from 1,240 students in the Fall of 2008 to 1,070 students in this semester.

Over the ten-year examined period, the Isaac Breuer College (IBC) morning program is at its largest size since 2010 relative to the other morning programs, currently comprising 25.0% of uptown students. IBC provides a classroom-oriented program for students to study topics in Tanach, Talmud, Halakha, and Jewish history, among other things. This semester, 267 students were enrolled in the IBC program.

Over the last 10 years, the James Striar School (JSS), the smallest of the four morning programs and oriented towards those with a more basic background in Judaic Studies, has grown to nearly double its portion of male undergraduate students, rising to compose 12% of the Wilf student body, from 7.01% in 2008. In real numbers, JSS has added 40 students since Fall 2008, to its current total of 127 students today.

Recently elected JSS representative Jeremy Orlian was pleased to hear his program has been growing over the last 10 years. “It comes as no surprise to me that the number of enrollees in the James Striar School has been steadily expand[ing] over the last few years.”  Orlian continued by explaining “[The incredible diverse study body and remarkable and learned Rabbis have] enabled JSS to succeed and grow...and the sense of mutual respect and the willingness to learn from one another makes this program truly unique and has surely played a significant role in its attraction of students.”

Comparatively, the Mazer Yeshiva Program--the program that devotes the most time during the day to seder and shiur-- is on a downward enrollment trend. In the Spring of 2012, MYP represented the majority of the Wilf student body (54.8%) and was composed of 581 undergraduates. IBC was the second largest program at the time but made up just 20.1% of the male students. Since then, MYP has shed students both in real terms and as a percentage of the student body. Today, still represents a plurality (478) of Wilf students, albeit 10% less than it used to (44.5%).

The Stone Beit Midrash Program (SBMP), which has seder and shiur from 9:00 until 1:00 PM, and covers some topics outside of Talmud, has both risen and fallen significantly over the last 10 years. The program’s low-point in enrollment occurred in Spring 2011 when just 13.4% of the Wilf student body was enrolled in SBMP. Shortly after that, however, the program grew in size and prominence following the additions of rebbeim like Rav Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, who joined YU in Fall 2013, and whose shiur averages over 33 students a semester.

Revamping SBMP helped it rise to nearly a quarter of the Wilf student body by Spring 2016. However, the program has since lost ground and returned to an 18.5% relative makeup of students. SBMP’s average size over the last ten years has been 18.9%.

When presented with the enrollment trends, Dean of RIETS and Undergraduate Torah Studies Rabbi Menachem Penner remarked that “the percentages have remained pretty constant over the past five years. I think that speaks to the fact that all four programs are meeting student needs.”

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky said he strongly supports all four programs, as they each provide space for students to pursue their own religious goals. “Every morning program is a l’chatchilah (an ideal) in its own right,” said Rabbi Kalinsky.

When it comes to choosing between the programs, Rabbi Kalinsky said that “the goal for each semester is for students to be in the appropriate program for the appropriate reasons.”

It is somewhat common for students to switch between different morning programs during their time on campus. A significant portion of students who transfer into IBC from MYP and SBMP do so as they become upperclassmen, in an effort to discharge Judaic studies requirements like Jewish History and Bible, or to allow them the flexibility to pursue academic interests that they otherwise would not be able to. IBC provides courses to this end, as well as a spectrum of course sections in halakha and machshava (thought) that are not provided in their seder/shiur based morning programs.

Yeshiva College senior Yosef Sklar stressed the ability to study and complete a major in an additional discipline as the impetus for his temporary switch to IBC from MYP. “Switching to IBC for a semester allowed me to complete a second major in Jewish Studies that I would not have had the opportunity to complete otherwise.” Sklar has since switched back to MYP.

Sklar stressed that he benefited from IBC’s offerings beyond his second major, and from the IBC instructors too. “While it was not even a class that counted towards my Jewish Studies major, I greatly enjoyed Rabbi Hayyim Angel’s class on Shemot. He is an outstanding pedagogue and a figure that [I believe] more students in our institution should be exposed to.”

Liam Eliach, a junior, switched from MYP to IBC after his first semester, citing the time constraints of a demanding double-curriculum for his change. “I didn't find myself having enough time to take advantage of MYP, do well in class and most importantly have time to relax, exercise, and breathe.”

Additionally, Eliach said he didn’t find the extended period of time learning Gemara, sometimes as long as five hours of seder and shiur, to be fulfilling. “I didn't feel like I was growing in any way, so, to me, that was an indicator that it was time to switch morning programs. In IBC, I was able to make a lighter schedule, while still taking interesting Judaic classes, especially in Tanach, while having time for myself to do other things including learning what I was interested in/would facilitate my growth.”

In an ideal world, Rabbi Kalinsky said he would prefer if students chose morning programs for “personal learning reasons” as opposed to requirements. Nonetheless, he stressed his “main concern is that everyone should be in the right program.”

As far as numbers go, Rabbi Kalinsky noted that he looks at the numbers each semester but that he is “not driven by numbers.” He added that every year, the UTS administration takes a look at one of the four programs, thinking of new ways to strengthen it from a programmatic and faculty perspective.