Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Why Don’t More Latino Children Attend Catholic Schools?

The Latino population boom has fueled substantial public school enrollment growth. But that growth is not similarly reflected in Catholic schools, which have been losing students and closing campuses for years.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association, Latinos make up about 40% of U.S. Catholics, but only about 14% of Catholic school students. Meanwhile, Hispanic children made up about 24% of public school students in October 2011, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

The Religion News Service recently reported that a group called the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, run by the University of Notre Dame, is seeking to challenge the status quo and increase the number of Latino students in Catholic schools.

“We’ve just taken it for granted that they will come,” Sylvia Armas-Abad of the Advantage Campaign told the news service. ”And at one point in time, they did–they ran to our doors. That’s no longer how it is.”

Hispanic Catholic school enrollment does vary somewhat by region. According to the NCEA, about 30% of Catholic students in western states are Latino.

Hispanic parents often believe they can’t afford to attend or that they are only for the most elite students. Tuition can seem daunting to many low-income families. According to the NCEA‘s 2012-13 enrollment report, the average elementary school tuition is $3,673, and the average secondary freshman tuition is $9,622.

Some scholarships do exist to fill the financial gaps. According to the Religion News Service, this school year about 83 percent of the scholarships awarded by the Catholic Education Foundation went to Latino students in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Similarly, the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago also assists low-income students with scholarships.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the decline in Catholic school enrollment has slowed somewhat, in part due to more Hispanic children enrolling. In some states, school vouchers are making Catholic schools more accessible to Latino families. The article said that Catholic elementary school enrollment has increased in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis.

Kevin Baxter, superintendent of elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,  has instituted recruitment strategies that include using Hispanic mothers to recruit other potential families.

“We’ve relied old way of doing things and now we’re slowly learning it is relationship driven,” he told the Journal.

Whether the church will be able to successfully attract Hispanic families remains to be seen. As recently as January, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would close 22 elementary schools and two high schools by the end of the school year.

Are Catholic schools in your area trying to reach out to Hispanic families?