Catholic schools rebounding from pandemic enrollment drop: report

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Catholic school enrollment in the United States has slightly increased during the current school year compared to the previous academic year, marking a rebound from an enrollment decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report.

The National Catholic Educational Association reported in a recently released data brief that there were approximately 1.69 million students in Catholic schools for the 2021-2022 school year, which was slightly higher than the 1.63 million reported for the 2020-2021 school year.

“Enrollment at all types of schools — public, charter and private — were impacted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic schools had a decline in enrollment of 6.4% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021,” stated the NCEA.

“Catholic schools’ dedication in safely opening classrooms and supporting their communities’ needs last year is demonstrated in the 3.8% increase in enrollment.”

Despite the reported increase, total enrollment is still 2.7% lower than the 2019-2020 school year, before the coronavirus pandemic impacted the numbers.

“It is promising that early childhood students have returned to Catholic schools but troubling that enrollment is still lower than pre-pandemic levels,” stated the NCEA report.

“Catholic schools innovated throughout the last two years to meet the needs of their communities. They need to continue to adapt to those needs and use the momentum to retain students and recruit new students in the upcoming years to stabilize or continue to increase enrollment.”

Enrollment in Catholic schools was at its peak in the early 1960s when approximately 5.2 million students went to around 13,000 Catholic schools, according to NCEA’s website.

“The 1970s and 1980s saw a steep decline in both the number of schools and students. By 1990, there were approximately 2.5 million students in 8,719 schools,” NCEA’s website explains.

“From the mid-1990s through 2000, there was a steady enrollment increase (1.3%) despite continued closings of schools. In the 10 years since the 2010 school year, 1,400 schools were reported closed or consolidated (19.7%), while 261 school openings were reported.”

Since early 2020, there has been much upheaval in education in the U.S due to COVID-19 lockdowns, disputes over facemasks and high-profile debates over curriculum.

Last September, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report finding that approximately 1.4 million students were taken out of district public schools during the pandemic while enrollment at charter schools, which are also public, grew. 

“It is premature to draw any conclusions about why charter school enrollment grew while enrollment in district public schools declined. And yet the pattern among states in this report is undeniable,” the National Alliance report stated, adding that the decline in public school enrollment had begun before the pandemic.

“There is much to learn from families who made the switch, and perhaps the biggest lesson for everyone is how critically important charter schools are to public education.”

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