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Catholic Schools: A Community Institution

Catholic_school_studentsThe fact that Catholic education produces solid academic results is well documented. The benefits include the following:

  • 98% of low income, minority children graduate from Catholic high schools, compared to only 66% of all students in public schools;
  • Hispanic and African American Students who attend Catholic schools are 2.5 times more likely to graduate college;
  • 81% of students who graduate from Catholic schools attend college, compared to 44% of students in public schools;
  • Catholic school students are also more tolerant of diverse views, more likely to vote, more likely to be civically engaged, and earn higher wages than their public school peers.

Research suggests that it is not just the students who benefit from Catholic schools. A book titled Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America, by Margaret F. Brinig and Nicole Garnett, highlights the importance of Catholic schools as community institutions.

Specifically, the book assesses the negative effects associated with Catholic school closures. The authors demonstrate statistically that after a Catholic school closes, there is a decrease in “social capital.” In other words, the web of connections and trust between neighbors is diminished. Ultimately this leads to more crime, making the neighborhood less appealing to families.

Catholic schools are good community institutions for the same reason that they are good educational institutions. The members of the school community facilitate an environment of trust and high expectations. This positive environment reaches beyond the schoolhouse and benefits the local community.

Unfortunately, we are facing a crisis in Catholic education. In the past two decades, approximately 2,000 schools have closed nationally. Many of these schools served as community anchors for generations, providing a quality education to Catholic and non-Catholic children alike. These community institutions will not easily be replaced.

Yet, there is hope.  The closures are often related to decreased enrollment. This does not reflect a lack in interest among families. Many families, especially in poor urban communities, simply cannot afford the cost of tuition despite generous subsidies provided by the Church.

In order to address this problem, states from across the country are adopting school choice policies in hopes of increasing the availability of a nonpublic school education. These policies include vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings accounts. These programs have made a Catholic education more affordable, particularly for low income families living in urban areas. As a result, some states have successfully turned the tide of declining enrollment and closures.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the plight of our urban communities. Understanding the value of Catholic schools is the first step towards doing something to ensure that these community institutions continue to serve students for years to come.


Andrew J. Vandiver is a lifelong Kentuckian and a convert to Catholicism. Andrew blogs at http://oldmanmillennial.blogspot.com/ and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    No doubt, Catholic schools are best, but where I live in the NE they’re now expensive private schools for upper middle class with one or two children.

    The word “Catholic” means Universal, it doesn’t mean upper middle class with one or two children. Couples who are open to life and have more than two children, just can’t compete with the contraceptive mentality that prevails at these schools. And with the school’s dismissal of Catholic Teachings (incl. contraception), their focus on worldly achievement (money) and their focus on attracting only “elite” students..
    – are the schools really Catholic anymore anyway?

    What angers me most is that if a child is of: 1. A middle class background and 2. have brothers or sisters, it’s very unlikely that child will receive any formal training in the Faith beyond 8th grade CCD. Training beyond that is only for children (families) with money and few siblings. People won’t like hearing this, but it is the truth.

  • Pax

    Does anyone understand what is causing the rising tuition? Is it a lack of religious vocations? There are 3 Catholics schools in my area and even though I have upper middle class income , ( and fairly substantial debt), there is no way I could afford to send my children to them. Even if I did, at least 2 of them aren’t very catholic, if catholic schools embrace the mentality of the culture and world around them , what good are they ? What makes them any better then public school, or private school with good acedemics? “What if salt should loose it’s saltiness, it will cast underfoot”

    • Randal Agostini

      Ever since nuns and brothers began to fall in number Catholic schools began to close. Simultaneously Catholic enclaves of Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants began to disperse into the general population.
      The other problem is that Bishops responded in an economic fashion, closing schools and relying upon the more well to do Catholic families. Priests and bishops were more accommodating to these new secular oriented Catholics.
      It would have made sense to simultaneously become more political to remove the Blaine Amendments in 38 states and vote for tax paid tuition to schools of choice. It is still not too late.

      • Pax

        Does it really make sense to rely on resources others will use to control what you teach and do. That is the problem with public funds

        • Randal Agostini

          The problem with Federal funds is that they are being used to intimidate. Government should deal equally with all and fully respect Freedom of Religion.
          I can drive on any highway at will and listen to any radio station I choose. To take away that right is Tyranny.
          It is grossly unfair for Catholics to have to pay twice for their children’s education.

  • DLink

    Quite right about the financial squeeze. I am sending my granddaughter to Catholic school but I don’t know for how much longer as costs continue to rise. Even though both her parents work, their ability to pay ever increasing tuition is just not possible. If one looks at mass attendance and notes the very few young people present, it will become apparent that something needs to be done soon. It is time the Catholic community as a whole took responsibility for this problem or we will be left with a very few elite academies that have little relevance to the Church.