WASHINGTON — Enrollment in Catholic schools rose for the first time in two decades this school year, according to a preliminary report released by the National Catholic Educational Association on Feb. 14.
The increase in enrollment came from Catholic elementary schools and increased by 5.8% overall, mainly due to the sharp increase in the number of pre-kindergarten students. Enrollment in Catholic secondary schools has fallen by 0.4% this year.
Highlights of the annual report, which will be released in March, showed an increase in enrollment of 62,000 students, a jump of 3.8%.
The increase, however, does not bring the number of Catholic schools back to pre-pandemic levels. In the first year of the pandemic, enrollment in Catholic schools fell 6.4%, its largest one-year drop in 50 years that the NCEA has collected school data. Currently, enrollment in Catholic schools is 2.8% lower than it was in 2019-20.
In the Diocese of Arlington, enrollment rose about 7.8 percent this school year, bringing the total number of students to 18,080 children in 50 Catholic schools (including independent schools).
The brief report attributes the rise in enrollment this year to the “dedication of Catholic schools to opening safe classrooms and meeting the needs of their communities,” but it also stresses that this trend must continue.
He stressed that schools “must continue to adapt to these needs and use the momentum to retain students and recruit new students in future years to stabilize or continue to increase enrollment.”
Elementary schools were first hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with an 8.1% drop in enrollment last year. The report calls this year’s increase a “positive sign for the long-term viability of secondary schools.”
The number of students in pre-kindergarten classes in Catholic schools has increased by 33.5% this year, with almost all states reporting an increase in the number of students in this age group, particularly Utah with an increase 137% and California with a 134% increase.
The brief report pointed out that pre-kindergarten enrollment accounted for 66% of the increase in enrollment in Catholic schools. But that increase, like overall enrollment, is still below pre-pandemic levels, which the NCEA report said was troubling.
Last year, the NCEA announced the closure of 186 elementary schools and 23 secondary schools in 2020. This year’s report indicates that on average over the past five years, about 100 Catholic schools have closed or merged. At the end of the 2020-21 school year, 71 Catholic schools closed or merged.
Breaking down the data by diocese, highlights from the report revealed that the largest dioceses are losing enrollment at more than double the rate of other dioceses over the past two years.
“As the population of the United States moves away from major cities, larger dioceses may face more school closures and consolidations. Dioceses will need to determine how they can continue to serve underserved communities in their cities as these changes occur,” the report said. .
The NCEA findings also noted how U.S. Catholic schools have adapted in recent years. There are currently seven virtual Catholic schools, 71 International Baccalaureate programs and 114 bilingual immersion programs.
Nationally, 6.8% of students in Catholic schools use a parental choice program and 20.2% of Catholic schools have enrolled students using parental choice programs.
Data from the report on principal and teacher retention revealed that 89% of principals and 86% of teachers have returned to their schools since the previous year, excluding those who have retired. The report attributes this high retention rate, even amid the pandemic, to the support felt by teachers and principals in Catholic schools.
To ensure that this retention rate continues, he added, “Catholic schools should continue to review teacher salaries, as they are on average almost 20% lower than what local public school districts pay. In addition, Catholic schools should provide opportunities for professional and spiritual growth for their teachers. , and dioceses must also support their constituents. »