College/Back to School
Demand for Catholic schools increases
Waiting lists prompt building of new schools and expansion
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Fifty-four new Catholic schools opened for the
2000-2001 school year, bringing the total to 8,146 schools
nationwide. "We're encouraged by the growing demand for Catholic
schools. Enrollment has increased steadily throughout the 90s and
waiting lists have prompted the expansion of existing schools as
well as increase in new schools," said Michael Guerra, president
of the National Catholic Educational association (NCEA). "We
expect this trend to continue throughout the next decade."
Guerra made the announcement based on data in the newly published
United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools
2000-2001, NCEA's annual statistical report on schools,
enrollment and staffing. According to Guerra, more than 300 new
Catholic schools have been opened over the past decade.
The statistical report notes that waiting lists are now the norm
in suburban schools (44%). Oversubscribed lottery systems also
are common in urban areas where privately funded scholarships or
publicly funded vouchers are available to low income families.
Catholic school enrollment for the current academic year is
2,647,301, including 2,004,037 elementary and middle school
students and 643,264 secondary school students, according to the
study. This represents a decrease of 5,737 students-less than
one-half of one percent-from the previous academic year. This
follows a period of steady annual growth in Catholic education,
where numbers have increased by some 86,000 students in the last
According to Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and
Educational research at NCEA, the enrollment decreases have been
centered in the urban areas of the Mideast and Great Lakes.
"Large numbers of schools in these areas served the children of
Catholic immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Their
descendants have moved out of these neighborhoods and into the
suburbs," said Sr. McDonald.
"The good news is that there are a growing demand and enthusiasm
for Catholic schools in the suburban areas, especially in the
Southeast and West, Sr. McDonald continued. "In addition to the
54 new schools opened last year, many more are projected to open
in the coming year. Demand for faith and values-based education
continues to grow."
Reflecting on those students and parents unable to attain slots
in Catholic schools, Guerra observed, "The good news isn't
reaching out to everyone-thousands of families remain on
admission waiting lists, and thousands more find modest Catholic
school tuition unaffordable. Our challenge is to encourage
Catholic school expansion and to continue our efforts to support
greater access for families of modest means by strengthening our
own fund-raising programs and by joining forces with others to
promote public policies that provide full and fair school
Strong urban presence
Dr. Robert Kealey, executive director of NCEA's Elementary School
Department, said that the total number of Catholic elementary and
middle school students is 2,004,037. There are 6,920 Catholic
elementary schools. "Of special note is the significant presence
of Catholic schools in urban and inner cities. Almost 46% of
Catholic schools are located in these areas, despite population
losses and great financial difficulties in maintaining them."
Dr. Kealey added, "The remarkable urban presence of Catholic
schools underscores that the Catholic Church values its
commitment to educate children, particularly the children of the
Almost 14% of the student enrollment in all Catholic schools is
non-Catholic. "It's clear that parents of all religious
backgrounds seek Catholic schools for a values-based curriculum
and academic excellence," said Dr. Kealey.
Sr. Mary Frances Taymans, executive director, NCEA secondary
Schools Department, reported that 643,264 students are enrolled
in Catholic high schools, up from 639,954 students last year.
"Naturally we are pleased that enrollments in Catholic secondary
schools continue to rise, but there is a long list of those who
cannot afford tuition, in spite of extensive financial aid
packages available at the majority of our high schools," said Sr.
Taymans. "Catholic school leaders are therefore essential
partners in the school choice movement. We are committed to
justice and equal educational choice for all parents and
Regina Haney, executive director, National Association of Boards,
Commissions and Councils of Catholic Education at NCEA,
underscored the important role of Catholic school boards. "Boards
provide the vision and leadership to make new schools happen and
existing schools thrive. Board members are particularly committed
to increasing Catholic school availability, a particular
challenge given the large number of students on waiting lists
nationwide," she noted.
Daniel Curtin, executive director of Chief Administrators of
Catholic Education (CACE), indicated that effective marketing has
played a key role in Catholic school growth. He cited in
particular the success of the National Marketing Campaign For
Catholic Schools, a joint project of NCEA and the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Curtin also noted that
NCEA has embarked on a teacher recruitment campaign to help
dioceses staff schools. "Our message underscores that Catholic
school teachers are there because of the strong, faith-filled