At the NCEA Convention, Dr. Tom Burnford, the President /CEO, presented the latest statistics alongside Sr. Dale McDonald, NCEA’s Director of Public Policy & Educational Research.  They both deserve kudos for being transparent about our data and confronting the brutal facts.  I often struggle to find the latest and most illuminating statistics on Catholic schools.  So here goes:

  1. The highest peak of Catholic school enrollment was the 1960s. There were 5.2 million students enrolled in 12,893 Catholic schools in 1960.
  2. Enrollments have declined since then: 1970=4.3 million, 1980=3.1 million, 1990=2.6 million, 2000=2.6 million, 2010=2.1 million.
  3. The number of schools has also declined: 1970=11k schools, 1980=9.6k, 1990=8.7k, 2000=8.1k, 2010=7k schools.
  4. Clergy or members of religious orders once made up over 90% of the faculties in Catholic schools. Now they make up less than 3%.
  5. In the past 7 years, 664 Catholic schools have closed. In the past year, 96 have closed.
  6. 99.3% of Catholic high school students graduate while 85.2% of graduates attend 4-year colleges.
  7. Over 26% of Catholic schools are racial minorities. Nearly 17% of the national enrollment is Hispanic.  Over 18% of total enrollment is non-Catholic.  Over 10% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch.

It’s easy to get discouraged by the number of schools which have closed in the past year (96) or the decline in total enrollment.   Or even easier to bury your head in the sand because your school is still open.  But it’s important to focus on the positive trends—we are serving more minorities, more Hispanics, more poor students AND we are continuing to produce great results in terms of academic achievement and connection to the faith.  And it’s important to focus on how we can get enrollment turned around.

If we can get each school united internally toward the common goal of serving God’s people and can get all schools working together to support each other, we will reverse the downward trends of enrollment and closings and usher in a new era of growth.  I believe the NCEA is the best path forward and if we all unite behind our National Catholic Education Association great things will happen.

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