Catholic Schools Are Losing Students at Record Rates, and Hundreds Are Closing

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York

Pandemic-fueled economic woes exacerbate schools’ challenges; some raise money on GoFundMe

By Ian Lovett | for The Wall Street Journal May 10, 2021 9:00 am ET

SAN FERNANDO, Calif.—Catholic schools across the country are struggling to keep the doors open, after a pandemic year that left many families unable to pay tuition and the church without extra funds to cover the difference.

At least 209 of the country’s nearly 6,000 Catholic schools have closed over the past year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. More closures are expected this summer, and some schools have taken to GoFundMe in an effort to stay open.

Nationwide, Catholic school enrollment fell 6.4% at the start of this school year, the largest single-year decline since the NCEA began tracking such data in the 1970s.

Urban dioceses have been hit especially hard: Enrollment in schools run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was down 12% at the start of this school year. In the Archdiocese of New York, enrollment was down 11%.

While enrollment has been falling for decades, the pandemic has added to the challenges schools are already facing, Catholic education leaders said. The percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic has been falling, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Charter schools and home-schooling networks now attract students who might once have gone to Catholic schools. Catholic school tuition, though still cheaper than most private schools, has risen to an average of about $4,800 for elementary school and $10,000 for high school.

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