Editor’s note: This question-and-answer interview with Lincoln Snyder, president and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association, appeared Sunday on catholicworldreport.com.
Catholic schools in the United States have grown in enrollment for two straight years, reaching record levels in some dioceses. Nationwide, Catholic enrollment jumped from 1.63 million to 1.69 million students, an increase of more than 3.5%, according to data released in February by the National Catholic Educational Association.
Though the statistics show that enrollment has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels — 1.74 million students enrolled in 2019 — the reversal is notable, as before the pandemic enrollment was trending down by 2% to 3% annually.
Lincoln Snyder, president and CEO of the NCEA, which works with Catholic educators to support ongoing faith formation and the teaching mission of the Catholic Church, spoke with CNA about the new numbers and the state of U.S. Catholic education today.
Can you break down for me how the enrollment numbers at Catholic schools (in the U.S. overall) have changed since the start of the pandemic?
We did see an initial drop in those first months of the pandemic. There was a lot of disruption for a lot of families in a lot of places. And so, the following May of 2020, we did see a drop in enrollment. We saw a number of schools close. A lot of difficult decisions were made at that point, but since then, Catholic schools have been on a consistent two-year upswing, so it’s very encouraging news for us.
We saw a 3.8% gain overall in the 2021-22 school year [an increase of 62,126 students]. And now in the 2022-23 school year, we’ve seen it go up another three-tenths of a percent [an increase of 5,076]. So just by way of numbers, our biggest single archdiocese in terms of enrollment is Los Angeles, and we’ve added more than another L.A. to our overall Catholic school enrollment. So for Catholic schools, this has been a really significant gain just in terms of the number of kids in our schools.
Do you know how many of the Catholic and public school families who moved to home schooling at the start of the pandemic have remained in that arrangement?
It’s very hard for us to track exactly what happened to individual families. And part of the reason I say that is we’ve also seen a lot of movement of people within the United States, and within regions. So the gains have been stronger in the South, Southeast, and Southwest. Obviously, in the Northeast, we’ve seen some places lose overall numbers of kids in big numbers. Home school is definitely one of those places where a lot of families ended up — we know that as a national trend.
I really couldn’t say with any confidence how many kids that had been at Catholic schools pre-pandemic would have ended up in home schools today. We just don’t have data. But I will say that we have more new families in our schools now than we did. So people have either changed schools within their area, or they’ve moved to a new area in really big numbers. And we know that in both those cases, it appears that families were much more likely to consider a Catholic education than they have been before.
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