Catholic School Enrollment Is Down

Catholic schools are losing students at the same rate as public schools, but a slight rebound this year is leaving advocates hopeful.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Much of the headlines pertaining to education news this year have focused on the failing public school system. Faith in public education is waning, and that can be seen through the reports of mass exodus, where enrollment rates continue to drop at extreme rates. However, public schools aren’t the only institutions losing students, as Catholic school enrollment is also on the decline.

Many critics of public schools are claiming that families are pulling their children in favor of religious academies. Despite these claims, data shows that Catholic schools are down tens of thousands of students as well since the onset of the pandemic. This finding comes directly from the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). Overall, Catholic schools teach 50,000 fewer students today than they did before the pandemic disrupted school.

While Catholic school enrollment greatly decreased these past few years, it has actually been losing students for decades. These private religious institutes lost 2.8% of their enrollment body since the pandemic began. This is on par with how many students left public schools. Many of the largest populated states felt these losses the most, as was the case in New York, California, and Illinois. 

Also sharing similar trends with the public school system, those overall losses made a bit of an upward trend this past school year. Catholic schools did regain some enrollments this year, but it was nowhere near making up for what they had lost. Despite this, some media groups, like the Manhattan Institute, ran with this figure, running a report depicting this gain as a “boom” in enrollment.

Since 2001, Catholic schools have hemorrhaged more than 50,000 students, but why the loss? There are likely multiple factors at play in this, including decreased birth rates, and an overall decline in Catholicism among citizens of the United States. Finances are likely at play as well. It’s a well-known fact that overall, families suffered economically during the pandemic, and most Catholic schools are not free. Likewise, the same things that drove families away from public schools are likely keeping them from their religious counterparts. More families are turning to homeschool, and these families aren’t only coming from public schools, but private institutions as well. 

Still, advocates for Catholic schools looked at this year’s slight increase in enrollment as a sign of hope. Some feel that this is a glimpse into the future of an upward trend for years to come. Many religious families are growing more and more concerned about contentious topics weaving their way into school curriculums. These families, that wish to see their children learn basic core academics feel that gender ideologies, divisive concepts, and politics should all be discussions left for the home. Because of this, Catholic schools that are known to avoid these teachings might serve as a better alternative for parents upset with the way schools are shifting. 

Catholic school

There is no denying that Catholic school enrollment has gradually slipped over the decades, but only time will tell if the private school sector will bounce back better than before, or continue to wane. If these last few years have proven anything, it’s that nothing is certain, and statistics and trends don’t always predict the future. For now, Catholic schools – just like public ones – will likely continue to suffer from their losses.