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Catholic school enrollment drops by 6.4% in 2020-21

Feb. 9, 2021
Nationwide enrollment dropped by 110,000 to about 1.6 million students, according to the National Catholic Education Association.

Enrollment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States has dropped 6.4% from the previous academic year amid the pandemic and economic stresses — the largest single-year decline in at least five decades, Catholic education officials say.

The Associated Press reports that between the 2019-20 school year and the current year, nationwide enrollment dropped by 110,000 to about 1.6 million students. Back in the 1960s, enrollment in Catholic schools was more than 5 million.

With the recent wave of closures, there are now 5,981 Catholic schools in the United States, compared with more than 11,000 in 1970, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

John Reyes, the NCEA’s executive director for operational vitality, said the pandemic exacerbated longstanding challenges facing Catholic education.

Some of the largest enrollment losses were in big-city dioceses—12.3% in Los Angeles, 11.1% in New York and 8.2% in Chicago.

The only big-city dioceses that saw significant increases were in Western cities with large Hispanic populations: up 5.5% in Las Vegas, 4.6% in Denver and 2.4% in Phoenix.

“Declines in enrollment at the primary grade levels may lead to a delayed but significant impact on secondary school enrollment within the next five to 10 years, proving potentially disastrous for secondary school viability,” the NCEA said in an analysis of the new data.

Reyes says tuition revenues do not fully cover the cost of Catholic schools’ operations, and yet they are still burdensome to many families. He said one-third of families with children in elementary school apply for financial assistance, and 47% of families with children in secondary school.

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