Roman Catholic school administrators can thank extended pandemic-based shutdowns of public schools for a dramatic reversal of fortune as enrollments increased 3.8% after a quarter-century of decline.
The Manhattan Institute analysis of data from the National Catholic Educational Association revealed that although the 1.688 million students enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year is roughly 150,000 fewer than five years ago, it is a jump over the 2020-2021 year.
That first year of COVID-19 restrictions marked “the largest single-year decline” in enrollment the NCEA had tracked in its 50 years of research, the study said.
“This increase is remarkable not only because it is the first nationwide Catholic school enrollment increase in 25 years but also because public schools around the country are reporting significant enrollment declines in both years of the pandemic,” researchers Kathleen Porter-Magee, Annie Smith, and Matt Klausmeier said.
The research team also found that public-school declined more dramatically “the longer districts remained in remote or hybrid learning.”
However, the Manhattan Institute study also warned of a potential decline in re-enrollment this year.
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“The most difficult students to retain are those who have most recently joined the school community,” the authors reported. “A significant one-year bump can be difficult to translate into enduring change. School leaders looking to grow their communities should focus as intensively on retaining newly enrolled families as they do on attracting new students.”
The study also noted parents often “shop around and explore new options” as children move from pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten programs.
Pre-K, the researchers said, had “the lion’s share of the recent enrollment increase” for Catholic schools.
“Given that many parents pay for childcare or pre-K, but fewer pay out of pocket for kindergarten, the chances of Catholic schools losing new families to free public and charter options is high,” the study recommends.
Regionally, parochial schools saw enrollment increases in Virginia (6.9%) and Maryland (2.8%), and a 0.5% drop in the District of Columbia.
The Manhattan Institute analysis and its supporting data are available online at Manhattan-Institute.org.
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