A while back, I asked in the forum section of this site what accounts for Catholic schools closing in some areas, and thriving in others. I got a few really interesting responses.
Here in the Northeast, it seems that tuition is a huge factor in declining enrollments. In areas where the public schools compare favorably, or have after school programs which meet the needs of the community, parents are more likely to send their children to the public school than to pay tuition to the Catholic school. Parents who want a religious education, or one that conforms to the values systems in Catholic schools will pay the tuition if they are able. Interestingly, not all the students attending Catholic schools are Catholic. There are more lay teachers than nuns, and the once plentiful supply of professionals who worked for little or nothing is long gone. Add to salaries the increased costs of insurance, transportation, fuel, supplies, and technology, and you have quite a hike in tuition over what used to be expected.
I have written here about Transfiguration Academy, an interparochial school in northern New Jersey, which is merging several parish schools for reasons of economics, enrollment, and capitalizing on sharing individual strengths. Hardly a week goes by in the New York City tristate metropolitan area without some news of a Catholic school closing, and the pain felt by those who have supported it for generations. Grade schools supported by parishes seem to be most vulnerable, but some secondary schools have had to merge or change or close as well.
It is a totally different experience for my alma mater Lourdes Academy in Miami Florida. Martica Castellanos, the alumni liason says “We have just recently finished our acceptance process for the coming school year and have had the difficult task of turning away over 150 applicants. I know that is not the case where you are. Believe you me, this does not feel much better. We have so many bright, talented and special applicants from beautiful families that we do not have the space for. Sometimes it is a very painful process for all involved.”
Tuition at Lourdes is $6900 a year. As was the situation when I was a student there, it is not a “rich kid’s” school. Admission is limited to girls from practicing Catholic families, and qualified students from non Catholic families are admitted as space is available. Some students are the second or third generation of their family to attend. In addition to tuition, families are expected to pledge a donation per daughter for three years of her attendance an amount donated to a special fund for activities, scholarships, and improvements. This is similar to the requirement in many parochial schools that families donate volunteer service or a charitable contribution above tuition.
Clearly demographics have a lot to do with the school’s success, but there are other things too. Good contact with alumni has always been maintained in the 40 some years of the school’s existence. Today there is a strong alumni organization across the world which works with the development office to raise funds on a continuing basis. Parents also have many opportunities to become involved. As an all female institution, the school occupies a niche.
Success breeds success. The school has always maintained excellent academic standards. They have long been recognized by local and national educational organizations, and their students continue to win awards in important academic competitions. Alumni go on to college, and many have become prominent in the professions of law, medicine, business, entertainment, media, and education. They continue to give their support and their donations of time and talent to the school. A consistently excellent faculty keep the school on the cutting edge of technology and educational developments.
From time to time, I will feature a successful Catholic high school or parochial school, focusing on what they have done to achieve not only survival, but excellence. It is my hope that those who are struggling to establish new schools or prevent longstanding ones from closing may get some new ideas and find resources.
Meanwhile, not to brag, but here is what success looks like: www.olla.org