Catholic Schools Note ‘Unanticipated’ 2-Percent Drop in Student Enrollment

By Alex Heard — March 30, 1983 4 min read
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This year, enrollments in Catholic elementary and secondary schools underwent an unanticipated decline of 68,000 students, according to a new report by the National Catholic Educational Association (ncea).

The 2.2-percent decline, lowering total enrollment in Catholic schools to 3,026,000, is the largest since 1979-80, officials said; the loss of 27,000 high-school students is the greatest since 1972-73.

The decline was “not anticipated,” according to the ncea, which compiles the statistical report each year.

Enrollment in Catholic schools appeared to have stabilized during the last few years, following the loss of more than two million students from 1965 to 1978, and last year’s decline of 0.4 percent was seen by the ncea as a continuation of this stablization.

What this year’s figures may mean for the long-term direction of Catholic-school enrollments--and whether the decline marks the end of “stabilization” or just a temporary setback--is not clear, according to Bruno V. Manno, director of research for the ncea

One factor affecting the statistics is the continuing decline in the number of school-age children, he said.

“Also, we’re not sure of the effect of the economic situation on enrollment,” he said. “And--this is more of an internal thing--we need to more closely monitor some of the statistical irregularities that pop up.” Mr. Manno said, for example, that last year’s elementary-school figures probably included some kindergarten students, increasing the total.

Mr. Manno also said that the Catholic-school figures must be viewed in relation to trends in other private schools and in public schools. (See related story on this page.)

64 Percent of Students

Catholic schools enroll 64 percent of private-school students, according to Bruce S. Cooper, a Fordham University researcher, who, with Mr. Manno and Donald H. McLaughlin at The American Institutes for Research in Palo Alto, Calif., is preparing a paper called “The Latest Word on Private School Growth.”

Every year since the 1969-70 school year, the ncea has published a statistical report on Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. (See Databank on page 15.)

Among the other highlights in the report:

The percentage of minority students in Catholic schools continued to increase this year and exceeds one-fifth of the total enrollment.

Hispanic Enrollment Increased

The percentage of minority students in Catholic schools has grown from 10.8 percent in 1970-71 to 20.4 percent this school year. Hispanic enrollment increased from 177,900 to 216,800 in that period, and black enrollment climbed from 172,000 to 208,800.

The percentage of non-Catholic students has increased from 2.7 percent in 1969-70 to 10.6 percent this year.

The total number of elementary- and secondary-school pupils, public and private, continues the decline that began in 1970.

Using 1970 as a base year, the report states, total elementary and secondary enrollment declined from 51.3 million pupils in 1970 to an estimated 45.8 million in 1980, a decrease of almost 11 percent.

The number of elementary-school-age children (5 to 13) is pro-jected to increase in 1985, the report notes, because of the recent upsurge in the annual birthrate.

Catholic-school enrollments today constitute a far smaller sector of private education than they did at their high point in the mid-1960’s, according to the ncea figures.

In 1965-66, Catholic-school enrollments were 87 percent of total private-school enrollment. By 1978-79, they represented only 64 percent of that total enrollment.

This year, there are 7,950 Catholic elementary schools and 1,482 secondary schools, a total of 62 fewer schools than in 1981-82. That decline is the smallest since the 1960’s, the report says.

Record Closings in 1971-72

In the 1965-66 school year, a six-year period of closings and consolidations began that culminated in a record 509 closings in 1971-72. In the past seven years, however, an average of 80 schools annually have closed, according to the ncea

Today, about 55 percent of all Catholic schools are in the regions the ncea designates as Mideast (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia), and Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin).

The number of full-time faculty members in Catholic elementary and secondary schools this year increased by 288 teachers to 146,460.

The shift in Catholic schools from religious to lay staff continues. This year, 77.3 percent of the schools’ elementary teachers, and 73.5 percent of their secondary teachers, are lay persons.

The report is called “United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1982-1983: A Statistical Report on Schools, En-rollment, and Staffing.”

Mr. Manno compiled data for the report, and Frank H. Bredeweg, a statistician, analyzed it.

Copies may be obtained for $2.95 from Publication Sales, ncea, Suite 100, 1077 30th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.

A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 1983 edition of Education Week as Catholic Schools Note ‘Unanticipated’ 2-Percent Drop in Student Enrollment


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