Recently, media attention has been paid to the closing of Catholic parish elementary schools. In late 2009, CARA completed analyses for the most recent update to the National Catholic Education Association’s (NCEA) biennial survey of Catholic elementary schools, Financing the Mission: A Profile of Catholic Elementary Schools in the United States. This survey asks Catholic elementary school principals about the finances, staffing, and other characteristics of their schools. Using these data, CARA creates a snapshot of Catholic elementary schools nationally. The recent trend of closings at parish schools seems shocking to some, but an investigation of the relevant data from this study reveals that the tuition model is under severe strain in some areas. For example, the average tuition for the first child of Catholic parents attending a parish school for 2008-2009 was $3,383. For that same child the per-pupil cost of education for 2008-2009 was $5,436. This means that 63% of this child’s per-pupil cost was covered by their tuition.
Looking at specific types of Catholic elementary schools, patterns begin to emerge. Schools in New England cover the most of their per-pupil costs through tuition, while schools in the Plains do not charge tuition at even half the cost to educate a student. Urban and suburban schools cover their per pupil costs through tuition at higher rates than inner city and rural schools. The smallest schools—those with enrollment less than 100 students—charge only a third of the actual cost to educate a student.
So, how are these schools making up for the cost to educate students? One way is that some schools look to subsidies from their parish to subsidize the remaining costs. Almost all (97.8%) schools in the Plains region report receiving a parish subsidy. Similarly, nine in ten (90.6%) rural schools report receiving a parish subsidy. And, more than four in five of the smallest schools receive a parish subsidy. Schools with the highest ratio of tuition to student costs and the lowest number of parish subsidies tend to be located in the Northeast, urban, but not in the inner city, sponsored by the diocese or archdiocese, and have a high enrollment.
Special thanks to Br. Robert Bimonte, FSC, Executive Director, Department of Elementary Schools at NCEA.
Above photo courtesy of Vaguely Artistic at Flickr Creative Commons.