|Source: Religious News Service|
After a year of pandemic induced virtual schooling and hybrid classes, enrollment in Catholic schools across the United States has risen 3.8% from the previous academic year.
According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), enrollment nationwide increased by 62,000 to about 1.68 million students. This marks the first increase in enrollment in two decades and the largest jump for the past five decades.
“Enrollment at all types of schools — public, charter and private — were impacted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic schools had a decline in enrollment of 6.4% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021,” the NCEA said in its annual report.
“Catholic schools’ dedication in safely opening classrooms and supporting their communities’ needs last year is demonstrated in the 3.8% increase in enrollment.”
Despite the January spike in COVID cases due the emergence of the Omicron variant, the NCEA said teachers and administrators remained optimistic about the future of education, especially as parents and administrators began planning for Fall 2022.
Similarly to many schools across the country, Catholic schools during the pandemic faced financial and enrollment problems that have been exacerbated as political debates about school reopenings and conflicting advice from public health officials have created difficult terrains to navigate.
Currently, there are 5,938 Catholic schools in the United States serving secondary, middle, and elementary students down from more than 11,000 in 1970.
Schools bearing the brunt of financial costs tended to be concentrated in urban communities according to John Reyes, the NCEA’s Executive Director for Operational Vitality. These schools tended to service a larger number of black, brown, and non-Catholic families who were disparately impacted by the pandemic.
The report additionally noted, “As the population in the United States shifts away from major cities, the largest dioceses may face more school closures and consolidation. Dioceses will need to determine how they can continue to serve underserved communities in their cities as these changes occur.”
A trend another independent study found has resulted in larger dioceses losing enrollment at more than double the rate of suburban and rural dioceses.
The report also found, “Enrollment of the youngest learners in Catholic schools was a driver of the overall Catholic elementary school increase. Almost every state had an increase in pre-kindergarten enrollment…” with the top enrollment increases in Utah (137%, 284 students) and California (134%, 6,187 students).
However, the latest numbers have given hope to many Catholics who feel the increased public interest in schools will contribute to higher enrollment in the future.
Source: Religious News Service