Catholic Schools’ Support Said Too Low

By Sheppard Ranbom — April 25, 1984 6 min read

A report released this week at the 81st annual meeting of the National Catholic Educational Association warns that “the current sources of financial support for Catholic schools are not adequate to maintain them in the future.”

The study, “Effective Catholic Schools: An Exploration,” states that “declining subsidies from religious orders, parishes, and dioceses, which result from the more general social, economic, and demographic factors affecting the American Catholic Church, are a major problem confronting Catholic schools.”

“For some schools, particularly those with large proportions of poor and minorities, these problems are especially serious,” the study says. In addition, in the “quiet transformation of Catholic schools to lay institutions,” the issue of “what to do with lay faculty” has never “been addressed fully,” the report states.

The principal investigators on the project were Anthony S. Bryk, associate professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and senior research associate at the Huron Institute, and Peter B. Holland, a doctoral candidate in administration, planning, and social policy at Harvard.

Management Tensions Cited

“It would be a tragic loss were [the] commitment and dedication to be dissipated because Catholic leadership lacked the vision to reach beyond their present horizon and cultural bounds concerning the appropriate means for organizing and managing faculty concerns,” the researchers state.

They note that “there are visible tensions within the schools over how they are Catholic, and as a result, whom they should serve.”

Nonetheless, the researchers argue that “there is much goodness” in Catholic schools. Teachers are committed to professional development, they write, and have “a personal stake in the school and in the lives of the students.” At the same time, students are “actively engaged in learning and the life of the school.”

Moreover, the tradition of a rigorous academic core curriculum has enabled Catholic schools to “accomplish a great deal with very modest resources,” the researchers note.

But the “goodness” of Catholic schools, they argue, is primarily a function of the value-oriented nature of Catholic education.

It is the focus on values in all endeavors that provides a common purpose for the school and binds it together as a social institution, according to the researchers.

A number of the researchers’ conclusions were supported by the findings contained in three other reports presented to the Catholic educators at their national meeting in Boston:

Enrollment: Catholic schools have been hit by the decline in the number of school-age children that has affected public and private schools alike, according to “United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, 1983-84,” a report on schools, enrollment, and staffing in 166 Catholic dioceses. The schools enrolled 2.97 million students in 1983-84, 58,000 fewer than in the previous year.

The 1.9-percent decline was roughly comparable to declines in Catholic-school enrollments over the past eight years averaging about 1.6 percent annually.

The ncea enrollment and staffing study indicates that despite the enrollment drop last year, the number of Catholic schools forced to close their doors this year was the smallest since the 1960’s. For the past seven years, an average of 72 Catholic schools per year have ceased operations, but this year only 31 Catholic schools closed.

Today, there are 7,937 Catholic elementary schools and 1,464 high schools, noted the report, which was written by the Rev. Frank H. Bredeweg, a research consultant.

According to the report, the number of closings has declined because many “large-scale reviews of diocesan school systems have been completed, and obvious closings or consolidations” have already been accomplished. Moreover, it states, “budget procedures have become more sophisticated” and flight from the city to the suburbs has slowed--a significant factor, the study notes, because “most Catholic schools were built in the cities.”

“Most important of all,” the study says, “Catholic parents and students continue to enthusiastically support Catholic schools. Proponents of Catholic education have borne higher tuition charges and more intensive development and fundraising efforts in order to retain schools.”

The report indicates that minority students constituted more than one-fifth of the total enrollment (20.4 percent) in Catholic schools during 1982-83. Black and Hispanic students made up the largest percentage of the minority enrollment (8.8 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively); Asian Americans made up 2.1 percent and American Indians, 0.4 percent.

The percentage of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools increased to 10.6 percent in 1982-83, compared with 2.7 percent in 1969-70. Non-Catholic students now make up 10.4 percent of the elementary enrollment and 11.2 percent of the secondary enrollment, according to the report.

In 1983, lay teachers constituted 78.8 percent of the teaching staff in Catholic elementary schools and 74.3 percent of the teaching staff in Catholic secondary schools, according to the enrollment and staffing report. “Today’s lay staff holds almost the same majority that religious [staff] held in the 1960’s,” the report notes.

Finances: Parish subsidies have declined over the last nine years from 52.9 percent of per-pupil revenue in 1973-74 to 45.7 percent in 1982-83. At the same time, the reliance on income from tuition and fees has increased from 38.6 percent to 42.7 percent of per-pupil expenditures, according to another report, “United States Catholic Elementary Schools and Their Finances, 1984.”

In the nine-year period, revenue from fundraising and other sources has increased by almost 45 percent, from 7.4 percent of per-pupil revenue in 1973-74 to 10.7 percent of revenue in 1982-83, the finance report found.

The report, which was also written by Father Bredeweg, indicates that per-pupil costs have risen by about 10 percent annually in the decade since 1972-83.

But operating expenses at Catholic elementary schools in 1982-83 were $1.74 billion, reflecting a national per-pupil cost of $782, a 19.8-percent increase over 1980-81.

“Despite fewer students and schools, higher salaries and other costs have caused the total annual expenditure to increase,” the report states.

The percentage of schools that charge tuition of below $600 has declined from about 80 percent to 66 percent since 1981-82, while the percentage of schools charging tuition of more than $800 has increased from 4.3 to 13.1 percent.

Slightly over 54 percent of the schools this year charged tuition of under $499.

Characteristics: A report on a comprehensive survey, funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, of 910 Catholic high-school principals nationwide provides some indication of how their schools encourage value-oriented education.

Some 46 percent of the schools in the survey offer off-campus community-service activities for credit; 70 percent of the high schools have added new courses within the last five years to address issues related to the social teachings of the Catholic Church. On the average, about 50 percent of all Catholic high-school class sessions begin with prayer, according to the report. (The text of the survey’s preliminary findings appears in the Databank on the following page.)

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 1984 edition of Education Week as Catholic Schools’ Support Said Too Low