Birthright Expands

Birthright Israel  just expanded its eligibility guidelines to include student who participated in an educational trip during High School (it was already opened to students who visited with family members).  Additionally, post-college students will have some chances to go on the trip past the previous cut-off of age 26.

This is welcome news but leads to a few questions.

Why exactly are they making these changes?  
What other trends are impacting Israel trip applications?
How will this impact other educational trips to Israel (especially those for high school students run by NCSY, NFTY, and USY)?

Before I can tackle the questions about trends, here are my thoughts on why they are changing.
Noa Bauer, birthright's VP of International Marketing explains the party line here:
“I think everybody thought about [the change in the eligibility guidelines] for many years, and everybody wanted to have it,” Bauer said. “It was a matter of funding, and I think today you see more anti-Israel things on campus, and we realized over the years that people that have been to Israel again have more confidence for talking about Israel, and geopolitics, and anything pertaining to Israel after visiting with Birthright Israel. I think we’re one of the best platforms to do that for college students.”

They wanted to do it but it was a matter of funding.
I am not so sure... Last year saw a longer application period (it seemed as though it would never end). I was told that it was because the application numbers are down. Many of the qualified student who would go on the trip have already gone (then there are the usual issues of dates, time with family, etc.).

I found this reason curious because I learned this summer that movement-related trips to Israel are down as well. The reason conveyed to me is that is because many parents were hesitant to send students on a paid trip that would prevent them from going on a free trip.

This was troubling because birthright trips are ten days long (although some programs have birthright plus that extends the program and individuals can extend their ticket for a small fee) that offer an introduction to Israel at a rapid pace and the movement trips (see above for links) are 4-6 week programs that offer more in-depth trips.  Increased time = increased effectiveness when it comes to immersion (or most other things--see Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers:  The Story of Success).

There is probably more going on.  Some issues I would like to research more include the declining population of college-age students, the pressure on students to have jobs and internships, and competition from other Jewish educational programs.

For more information on Birthright, see my review of a book about the trip.

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