‘Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service’: Catholic schools provide benefits to society and Church

By Patrick T. Brown | Trenton Monitor Associate Editor

Catholic schools have it all, as the slogan goes, but ‘having it all’ takes on an added dimension when you look at the national scope, impact and benefits of the Catholic school community across the United States.

According to statistics provided by the National Catholic Educational Association, a voluntary association representing Catholic school educators and institutions, there are just under 6,600 Catholic schools across the nation, including nearly 5,400 elementary and middle schools and nearly 1,200 secondary schools.

Together, they provide $24 billion in financial savings for the country, based on the average public school per pupil cost. But beyond the strictly pecuniary benefits, the virtues and values formed in Catholic schools impact our nation and its future leaders in ways too innumerable to count.

That impact is being recognized in this year’s National Catholic Schools Week, running from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, which will focus on the theme “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Many states throughout the union recognize Catholic Schools Week in a special way, including New Jersey. In years previous, Gov. Chris Christie signed a proclamation celebrating Catholic schools for educating “millions of New Jerseyans in preparation for their responsibilities as residents of this State and as members of society,” and he is expected to proclaim something to similar effect this year as well.

In addition to graduating leading members of civic society, Catholic schools also are prime sources for future leaders in the Church – a 2012 study from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that 26 percent of male Catholics born after 1982 (so-called “Millennials”) who attended Catholic primary or secondary school had considered becoming a priest. For those with no history of attending a Catholic school, only nine percent had contemplated a vocation to the religious life.

Additionally, Millennial Catholics who attended a Catholic secondary school were eight times more likely to attend weekly Mass than those who never attended a Catholic school.

Despite these benefits to local, state, and national communities, Catholic schools do face the challenges of declining family size and the ongoing impact of the recession of family income and school tuition.

For example, CARA found more than 213,000 students enrolled in the fourth grade in Catholic schools across the United States in 2000. By 2013, that number had fallen to just above 140,000.

But in the face of these challenges, Catholic schools continue on their mission of building communities of faith, knowledge and service. Parents clearly see the value of a Catholic education.

A national poll in 2006 found that Catholic parents listed the following factors as “very important” factors in convincing them to choose a Catholic school for their children: quality religious education, a safe environment, quality academic instruction, discipline and order, a sense of community, and reasonable tuition.

These appealing characteristics are what makes a Catholic education so valuable and treasured by hundreds of thousands of parents across the United States.

The NCEA’s data show that nationwide, 32 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists for admission. Virtually all students enrolled in a Catholic high school receive a diploma at the end of their schooling, compared to only 78 percent of public school students, and 85 percent of Catholic school graduates go on to attend a four-year college, compared to 39 percent of seniors graduating from public schools.

If you’d like to join in the conversation about Catholic schools, their communities, and the benefits they offer to local communities and communities of faith, use the hashtag #CSW16 on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest.

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