$200,000 Ad Campaign Touts Catholic Schools in Chicago

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Hoping to reverse a decline in their schools' enrollment, the principals of 52 Roman Catholic high schools in the Chicago area are cooperating in a $200,000 advertising campaign on local radio and television stations.

The campaign, which began last month and is scheduled to continue through Nov. 5, features commercials touting the value of a Catholic education and providing a phone number for queries about upcoming open houses at the schools.

The Archdiocese of Chicago is the second large Catholic diocese nationally to turn to the broadcast media in an attempt to attract more students.

A similar marketing effort begun last year in the Milwaukee archdiocese was credited with increasing enrollment in church-operated high schools this fall.

Officials in Chicago said they strived to make sure that the tone of their commercials was not perceived as critical of the public schools. Catholic leaders in Milwaukee drew fire from that city's superintendent of schools for airing commercials that seemed to disparage public-school students.

"The principals wanted to be sure that in no way would they be anti-public-school," said Lorraine Ozar, who coordinated the project for the Chicago archdiocese. "The thrust of our ads is to be pro-Catholic-values, not anti-public-school."

The Chicago educators said their campaign represented a rare degree of cooperation among the high schools in the archdiocese, which covers the city, the suburban area of Cook County, and suburban Lake County.

Only four of the schools are run directly by the archdiocese. Forty are operated by orders of priests or nuns; the rest are run by parishes or are junior seminaries, which provide high-school-level training for aspirants to the priesthood.

Since there are no attendance boundaries drawn for the schools, many of them compete in recruiting students. The schools contributed money for the advertising campaign based on their student populations.

As in most Catholic dioceses, enrollment continues to decline steadily in the Chicago archdiocese. Five years ago, high-school enrollment was about 47,000. For the current school year, it is about 39,000, down by 5 percent from last year, according to Ms. Ozar.

The commercials are designed to bring 8th graders and their parents to open houses, which the high schools are just starting to hold s prospective freshmen.

"I think most of the Catholic schools can do a fine job of selling, once they get people in the building," said Walter Schultz, principal of St. Francis de Sales High School on the South Side of Chicago.

"If we get two extra students, we've paid for our contribution for the ads," he said. The school contributed $5 for each of its 750 students, he said, adding that annual tuition is $2,000 per student.

In Milwaukee, church officials estimate that freshman enrollment in archdiocesan high schools increased by 10 percent this year after eight years of declines.

The commercials produced by the archdiocese were initially criticized by Robert S. Peterkin, the public-school superintendent. He said the ads suggested that the public-school population provided "unworthy companions" for Catholic students.

The archdiocese responded by dropping some language from the advertisements that Mr. Peterkin found offensive.

The Milwaukee effort sparked wide interest among Catholic educators from around the country, who packed a presentation about the advertising campaign at the convention earlier this year of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Vol. 09, Issue 09

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