|Catholic school enrollment has declined by about 3 million in the last 30 years—despite data that the number of Catholics in the U.S. grew by more than 20 million since 1965. While closures of urban schools and a lack of rural schools are important contributors to this decline, it is significant that many suburban Catholic families send their children to public institutions. Catholic schools need to uncover and address the specific reasons why these students are not enrolled in their classrooms. |
||Uncovering the issues
Through surveys, public meetings, and one-on-one conversations, schools need to ask families why they are enrolling elsewhere. Some common issues include:
Tuition and Fees: Cost is a multifaceted issue that needs to be addressed through better communication about affordability; innovative fundraising methods, such as having parishioners and local businesses “adopt” students; and sharing the education cost with the entire Catholic community, not just the families of students.
Transportation: Sometimes, the only obstacle between a child and the school is the lack of a ride. Schools need to find ways to get children to school through organized carpooling, donations for bus fare, or leasing a van or bus, which could impact enrollment enough to make it cost effective.
Perceived Lack of Services: The perception of Catholic schools as bare-bones institutions persists, and families are attracted by the public schools’ ability to provide amenities and services that the Catholic schools traditionally do not. Schools need to not only match these services, but communicate their ability to do so.
Addressing the problems
If Catholic schools want to impact enrollment, they must make significant changes to help them compete with their counterparts, such as through:
New Governance Models: Replacing the one-parish/one-school model with a structure that allows schools within a geographic region or diocese to combine forces and be managed by a consortium or a diocesan board has a number of advantages, including the ability to share resources and funding, as well as multiply buying power.
Clustering: Many parishes fear clustering and fight to hold on to their autonomy, but combining smaller schools into one has many of the same advantages as a New Governance Model. In addition, clustering can create a much more attractive social atmosphere for students not wanting to be "stuck" with the same small group of peers for their entire school career.
Marketing: Schools need to find new ways to generate interest through ideas like visitation days, game nights, open houses, and other events. Also, they need to take the opportunity to celebrate successes and milestones publicly, such as displays in church vestibules, articles in the bulletin, and other places where public school families can be reached.