After decades of experiencing decline in enrollment Catholic schools saw their first enrollment increase of 3.8% during the academic year 2021 to 2022, The yearly decline had brought up some questions as to whether the Catholic education model could pull through. The increase was noted by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and is considered to be the first in 20 years as well as the largest increase ever recorded. The NCEA has been responsible for publishing yearly statistical reports on Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the country for five decades now.
Some of the data revealed that parents are not satisfied with how local schools, particularly elementary schools, have been operating poorly for the past two years. The 66% increase in enrollment was contributed mostly by pre-kindergarten enrollment, which showed a 34% increase from last academic year. In California, the percentage increased by 134% while it was 137% in Utah.
Increase in Enrollment Attributed to Poor Pandemic Performance of Traditional Public Schools
According to Annie Smith, the vice president of data and research at NCEA, Catholic schools have enrolled additional 62,000 students in 2021-2022, although it still does not reach the number they had pre-pandemic as Catholic schools experienced a 6.4% drop during the academic years of 2019 to 2020 and 2020 to 2021. Still, the improvement this year in enrollment defeated the pre-pandemic predictions that projected a continuing decline. Ms. Smith added that if the pandemic did not happen, their enrollment would have been about 1.65 million and not 1.69 million, which defied the expected 2% to 3% annual decrease.
Traditional public schools on the other hand was affected the most regarding pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollments. This findings suggest that in some places of the country, most parents now prefer Catholic schools over traditional public schools. Ms. Smith mentioned how this is not a coincidence as they saw a higher increase in enrollment in states that have less chances to have in-person classes.