Catholic schools are making a surprise comeback
After decades of downward trending enrollment numbers, Catholic schools are beginning to rebound.
After posting downward trending numbers for the last several years, Catholic schools in the U.S. are making a comeback. New figures from the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) show a slow shift back to pre-pandemic numbers.
Catholic school history
The NCEA website cites the 1960s as the heyday of Catholic education in America, with 5.2 million students in nearly 13,000 Catholic schools. Since then, enrollment has been on a slow but steady decline, which brought totals down to about 2.5 million students in just 8,719 schools in the 1990s.
In the new millennium the decrease has become even more noticeable. Since 2010, about 1,400 Catholic schools closed. This nearly 20% drop has also been mirrored by enrollment rates, which have seen nearly half a million students withdraw from Catholic education in the last 10 years.
The 2021-2022 academic year
Now, The Tablet reports that enrollment in Catholic schools has risen by about 4% in the 2021-2022 academic calendar. While the percentage is small, it represents an addition of about 60,000 students, from 1,626,291 to 1,688,417.
According to the data from NCEA, between 2019 and 2021 Catholic school enrollment fell by 6.4%, the largest drop in 50 years. Now, they are slowly returning to 2019 levels, but this comes despite a decrease in Catholic school locations. In the last year, 43 Catholic schools have either closed or merged with another.
CNA highlighted the cities of St. Louis and Cincinnati as two locations with disproportionately large numbers of Catholic students for their size. Both cities have identified a 1.5% increase in Catholic school enrollment from last year, although both admit they are still down overall since 2019.
The greatest increase was seen in Miami, where Catholic schools are teaching 5.4% more students than last year. CNA reported that Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School in particular welcomed the largest freshman class in decades this fall. This class of 118 students nearly triples the previous year’s enrollment.
Meanwhile, The Tablet took a look at one of the largest dioceses in terms of national student enrollment, the Archdiocese of Brooklyn. There, enrollment has been on a downturn for the last 10 years, but this year marked a 2.4% increase in enrollment. Ted Havelka, the diocesan director of enrollment management and financial assistance, commented:
“That is a testament to the hard work, dedication and caring of the teachers, principals, parish pastors and leaders,” Havelka told The Tablet. “It’s a lot of people doing everything they can for children and putting children’s needs above all else, and parents can see that.”