Catholic school enrollment rebounds after sharp drop – The Durango Herald

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Students enter the first new Catholic school built in Baltimore in about 60 years on August 30, 2021, named after Mother Mary Lange, who opened a Catholic school for black children in 1828 – the first American Catholic school for young African Americans . Enrollment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States rose 3.8% from the previous school year, rebounding from a sharp decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Catholic education officials reported Monday. (David McFadden/Associated Press file)

David McFadden

Enrollment in Catholic schools in the United States rose 3.8% from the previous school year, rebounding from a sharp decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Catholic education officials reported Monday.

The National Catholic Educational Association said nationwide enrollment rose by 62,000 to around 1.68 million students, marking the first increase in two decades and the biggest jump it has recorded since at the least five decades.

“Enrollment in all types of schools – public, charter and private – was affected last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic schools saw a 6.4% drop in enrollment from 2019-20 to 2020-21,” the NCEA said of the largest single-year drop in 50 years since it collected data. “Catholic schools’ dedication to opening classrooms in safe and responsive to the needs of their communities last year is demonstrated by the 3.8% increase in registrations.

The annual report says Catholic school students, teachers and administrators were upbeat as schools resumed in-person classes this fall, as many did in the previous school year. But they continue to face challenges as school systems across the country try to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial and enrollment issues have been compounded by the pandemic and have forced the permanent closure of many Catholic schools across the country. After a wave of closures, there are now 5,938 Catholic schools in the United States, up from more than 11,000 in 1970.

John Reyes, NCEA executive director for operational vitality, said last year that the closures disproportionately affected urban communities where significant numbers of black children, many from non-Catholic families, attended Catholic schools.

The latest report indicates that over the past two years, the largest dioceses have lost enrollment at more than double the rate of other dioceses.

“As the population of the United States moves away from major cities, larger dioceses could face more school closures and consolidations,” the report said. “Diocese will need to determine how they can continue to serve underserved communities in their cities as these changes occur.”

Elementary and middle schools were hardest hit between the 2019 and 2020 and 2020 and 2021 school years by the pandemic with a collective drop in enrollment of 8.1%, compared to a 2.5% drop for secondary schools. Pre-kindergarten programs saw the largest decline, 26.6%.

This year, Catholic elementary schools saw a 5.8% increase in enrollment; secondary schools recorded a slight decrease of 0.4%.

“The increase in enrollment at the primary level is a positive sign for the long-term viability of secondary schools, although there has been a slight decline this year,” the report said.

The report also indicates that pre-kindergarten enrollment increased by 33.5%.

“The enrollment of younger learners in Catholic schools has been a driving force behind the overall increase in Catholic elementary schools. Nearly every state saw an increase in pre-K enrollment…” The largest increases were in Utah (137%, 284 students) and California (134%, 6,187 students).

The national gain of 62,000 students in Catholic schools can be attributed primarily to pre-kindergarten-related enrollment, according to the report. But it is still 2.7% lower than 2019-20.

“It is promising that early childhood students have returned to Catholic schools, but troubling that enrollment is still below pre-pandemic levels, he said.

“Catholic schools have innovated over the past two years to meet the needs of their communities,” the report said. “They 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.”

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