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Catholic School Enrollment Continues to Decline, Report Finds

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The National Catholic Education Association today released new school and enrollment statistics about the nation's Catholic schools, which found that while 28 schools opened during the 2012-13 school, 148 were closed or consolidated.

More than 2 million students currently attend Catholic schools, a 1.5 percent decrease compared to the 2011-12 school year. That 1.5 percent represents around 30,000 students. The number of students enrolled in Catholic schools in the U.S. reached its peak in the early 1960s with more than 5.2 million students, the report found. That population declined steeply in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching about 2.5 million students by 1990. Between 2000 and 2013, 2,090 Catholic schools closed or consolidated, and the number of students has declined by 651,300.

The decline in enrollment has been attributed to middle-income families' flight from urban areas, declining financial support from the church, and higher operational costs. Some argue that today's Catholic schools require new management to weather the fiscal challenges. Others point to the rise of charter schools as one reason why Catholic school enrollment has declined.

The report also found that nearly a third of the nation's Catholic schools (2,166 of them) have waiting lists for admission.

In a statement, Karen M. Ristau, the NCEA president, said part of the problem is that the construction of new facilities for Catholic schools in urban areas has not kept up with the demand.

"We have buildings, many of them historic, in metropolitan areas where the student population has declined," she said. "On the other hand, there are waiting lists for schools in many places because new school construction has not kept pace with the population growth." 

Ristau also urged Catholic educators to advocate for school choice methods including vouchers and scholarship programs to help low-income families pay for Catholic school tuition.

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