Creating a ranking system for Jewish life on college campuses is difficult and subjective – each person has his or her own perspective and opinions, and every place has its own pros and cons. Sometimes the response is to avoid the topic altogether, or to rank them on one factor alone – such as Jewish population, or presence of kosher food. But I think it’s really important (as I’ve written previously), both for high schoolers choosing colleges, organizations looking where and how to invest, and for communities looking to develop. So I decided to evaluate campuses based on the Jewish resources they have, which are objective and measurable. This ranking of resources and the resulting score, referred to as Religious Resource Ranking, could then be applied evenly across all campuses. As a caveat, the resources used and resulting rankings are specific for religious/Orthodox students, although many of the factors are common to all Jewish students, let alone all observant Jewish students.
The factors used in this ranking were: Jewish Population, Orthodox Communal and Clergy, Kosher Food, Davening and Learning, and Outreach. The factors’ scores were summed out of 7.5, and given a weighted score out of 100. I’ll now delve into each factor – why it was included, what it entails, and how its points were measured.
Jewish Population: Having more Jews on campus is a beneficial feature, as is a higher percentage of Jews, since that’s the human capital with which you have to work. The score given is based on half a point for the number of Jews relative to the maximum (6,500), plus the Jewish population percentage. For every school but the Yeshiva colleges, the percentage is .50 or below, giving this a maximum of 1.
Orthodox Community and Clergy: 1 point is given if there exists an Orthodox student community, marked by the existence of a board and/or a website. Some campuses have Orthodox programs (e.g. davening) or a listserv but no official community, so they receive half a point. Interestingly, campuses where the Orthodox students are centered out of Chabad tend to not have an Orthodox student community, as Chabad doesn’t believe in anything other than a Chabad community – which isn’t the same thing. For Orthodox rabbi, 1.5 points is given for campuses with JLIC educators – since that’s 1.5 staff people dedicated to serving Orthodox students and their needs; 1 point for campuses with other Orthodox rabbis who cater to them; and half a point if there’s an Orthodox rabbi (Hillel, Chabad, kiruv, local shul), but who don’t specifically cater to the Orthodox students. Chabad tends to falls in that category since, again they’re usually not focused on or fit to cater to the Orthodox students
Kosher food: as discussed previously, this is really important (and not just for Orthodox/religious students) – both for keeping kosher, and for promoting a Jewish/religious community. There are different types of kosher food options available, each scored differently: some schools offer kosher dining plans for anyone on any meal plan (1 point), others make you sign up for a separate meal plan (.75 points, since it’s limiting in many ways), some offer partial kosher meal plans – only a few days a week or once per day (.5 points), some schools don’t offer kosher food through the meal plan but have other options, like packaged sandwiches, airplane/heat&eat meals, groceries, local restaurants, etc. (.25 points)
Davening: half a point if there’s a daily Orthodox minyan, and half a point if there’s a Shabbat Orthodox minyan – for a total possible of 1 point.
Learning: 1/3 of a point each for: weekly shiurim for Orthodox students (whether given by JLIC, another rabbi, or students), a weekly learning program (e.g. SNL, YYK, MEAT, PizzaParsha, Kollel, WNLP), and a beit midrash – for a possible total of 1 point
Outreach: Heart to Heart activity, out of .5 points, is a measure of the efforts of the religious community to do outreach to the wider, uninvolved Jewish population. This usually takes the form of Shabbat and holiday meals around campus, but also individual efforts to reach out to and welcome in outsiders. Besides for a measure of the strength of the community and its responsibility towards Am Yisrael, it also shows the community’s commitment to recruitment and expansion.
Closest Shul: We also included points (out of .5) if there was an Orthodox shul nearby – with ‘nearby’ being quantified as under 2.5 miles, and the points given relative to the distance. Often if there’s a Shul nearby, students can make use of it for community, meals, davening, mentorship, learning, teaching, etc. Some shuls do it better and are proactive about it (like Muhlenberg and Allentown’s Sons of Israel) and some should be doing more.
One factor left out (intentionally) is the number of Orthodox students. One reason is because this is a ranking of resource, not of the people who utilize those resources (although the claim could be made that the people are themselves resources too). Some would argue that communities of 500 people are objectively better than those of 50, but we beg to differ; you could have a really well run and quality community of 50 people which is just as good as, if not better than, a community of 500 people. Furthermore, we want to use this factor as a lens through which we can view and evaluate the rankings – which we’ll hopefully delve into in the next post.
To visualize and sort through these rankings, check out this map we built: theheart2heartproject.org/map The map contains 150 colleges with all of the resources listed here – all of which you can use to filter and search. It also includes a score compiled from the sum (scaled out of 100) of all the resource rankings, giving a complete, quantifiable, and comparable metric for each college’s Jewish life.
Check out and explore the map yourself and let us know what you think. If you want to learn more, this video goes through how to use the map step-by-step: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NACmqu_K6W8#t=3m11s Happy hunting!