For the first time in 20 years, enrollment in U.S. Catholic elementary and secondary schools increased in 2021-22, rising by 3.8 percent according to data from the National Catholic Educational Association. The enrollment boost was driven in large part by the leadership Catholic schools showed in returning to in-person learning a full year before many of their public school counterparts. But if we want to turn this enrollment rebound into enduring growth, we will have to double down on what makes our schools unique—and what makes them so critical to the broader ministry of the church—while removing the barriers that make our schools inaccessible to too many.
Last year’s enrollment increase comes after a decades-long decline in both the number of Catholic schools and the number of Catholic school students. While not always asked so directly, this slow and steady decline has raised two questions: Do we still need Catholic schools? And are these 19th-century creations the best way to help 21st-century children?
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