Catholic Schools Continue Slide In Enrollment

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WASHINGTON--Enrollments in Roman Catholic elementary and secondary schools are continuing to decline, with 116 fewer schools and 84,000 fewer students this year than last, the National Catholic Educational Association says in a new report.

The number of Catholic schools in the United States has decreased by more than 4,000 since 1964, when the number peaked at 13,249 schools with a total enrollment of more than 5 million students, according to the group's annual statistical study, released last week.

In the current school year, 9,120 Catholic schools enroll about 2.7 million students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, the report says.

It attributes the steady downward trend to the declining number of school-age children, a dwindling pool of members of religious orders to staff schools, and increased operating costs.

At the same time, the schools' student population has changed significantly, the report says. The number of ethnic minority students attending Catholic schools has increased from 10.8 percent in 1970-1971 to 21.8 percent this year. Black and Hispanic students attend Catholic schools in almost equal numbers, it says, and together constitute 85 percent of the schools' minority enrollment.

Non-Catholic student enrollment in Catholic schools also has increased, from about 3 percent in 1969-70 to almost 12 percent now. The majority of the non-Catholic students are black, according to the study.

School Staffs

The report also highlights the dramatic change in the Catholic-school teaching force, as lay instructors have increasingly replaced teaching nuns, priests, and brothers.

Currently, about 83 percent of the teachers in Catholic elementary schools are laypeople, compared with 45 percent in 1968-69. On the secondary level, laypeople now compose 78.5 percent of the teaching staff, compared with 41 percent in 1968-69.

Those figures represent the continuation of a 30-year trend away from staffing schools with religious-order members, according to the report, and signal continued financial strains resulting from the higher salary demands of lay teachers.

An earlier association study reported that, by 1990, fewer than 10 percent of Catholic-school teachers will be members of religious orders. That figure is projected to decrease to fewer than 2 percent by 1995.

The report, "United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1986-1987, A Statistical Report on Schools, Enrollment, and Staffing,'' is based on information from 171 archdiocesan and diocesan offices. Copies of the study are available for $5.50 each for members and $7.30 for nonmembers from the Publication Sales Office, National Catholic Educational Association, Suite 100, 1077 30th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007; (202) 293-5954.

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