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Catholic Schools Increase Enrollment for 2nd Straight Year

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Anaheim, Calif.

For the second year in a row, the nation's Roman Catholic schools have experienced growth in the number of students, according to figures released last week by the National Catholic Educational Association.

Enrollment nationally was up 0.4 percent, or 9,215 students, over last year, the N.C.E.A. announced at its annual convention here.

There are a total of 2,576,845 students in elementary and secondary Catholic schools this year.

Catholic schools represent the largest sector of private K-12 education.

Last year, the schools saw a heftier surge in enrollment, gaining 16,767 students over 1991-92. It was the first year in nearly three decades that enrollment had increased significantly. (See Education Week, April 21, 1993.)

Since the 1988-89 school year, total enrollment in Catholic schools has remained fairly stable at about 2.6 million students. That stability reversed what had been a downward slide from 1982-83, when the schools had about three million students nationwide, N.C.E.A. figures show.

"While we rejoice in the increase, the real news is the six-year picture showing sustained enrollment and increased support for Catholic schools,'' Sister Catherine T. McNamee, the president of the N.C.E.A., said in a statement.

At the press briefing here, Sister McNamee said the size of this year's upturn in enrollment was "probably about what we anticipated'' given demographic patterns, the closing of some schools, and the opening of others.

The increase in enrollment occurred broadly around the country, with 42 states reporting more Catholic-school students this year than last.

The N.C.E.A. figures also show that the percentage of minority-group members in Catholic schools continues to increase, more than doubling since 1970-71. This year minorities make up 24.7 percent of the national K-12 student body, up from 23.5 percent last year.

Non-Catholics represent 13 percent of students, up from 12.3 percent in 1992-93.

Number of Schools Drops

The climbing enrollment occurs at a time when the number of Catholic schools across the country is continuing to shrink, as financial pressures and demographic shifts force mergers and closures.

This year, there are 8,345 Catholic schools, 78 fewer than last year. Of the total number of schools, 7,114 are elementary--60 fewer than last year--and 1,231 are secondary, according to Frederick H. Brigham Jr., the director of research and technologies for the N.C.E.A.

There are 3,909 Catholic schools in urban areas, down by 28 from last year.

At the same time, however, some schools have waiting lists and some dioceses in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas are opening new schools, N.C.E.A. officials pointed out.

The enrollment increase also comes despite the financial strain Catholic-school tuition puts on families, said Michael Guerra, the executive director of the N.C.E.A.'s secondary schools department.

Tuition at Catholic schools averages about $1,200 annually for elementary students and about $3,000 per year at secondary schools, officials said.

As was true last year, enrollment gains were realized this year in both kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, both of which Catholic schools have been adding in recent years.

In the last decade, preschool enrollment has increased by nearly 300 percent.

Currently, some 45 percent of Catholic elementary schools offer pre-K programs, said Robert J. Kealey, the executive director of the N.C.E.A.'s elementary schools department.

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