A reader seeks your thoughts on Catholic High Schools

I don’t have any kids in Catholic school and never have, so I can’t offer anything intelligent here. Maybe you can. A reader writes:

Hi Mark,
I just found an article you wrote on NFP. Saw you a men’s conference in Worchester a couple of years ago. Was searching the internet because something was/is bothering me and I have a question for you. A little background first- my wife and I have four children. Our two oldest are in college, the other two are in public HS.

I teach CCD at my parish, 9th grade class of 13 students making their Confirmation this year. Three of the students attend the local Catholic HS, the remaining ten attend public school. My wife and I decided not to send our own children to the local Catholic HS, they attend public school. It was a tough decision, but the cost of ($11K x4x4) $176K was too much. I had inquired with the school for what kind of financial aid we might expect with 4 based on our income, but had really gotten no where.

In the first class this week the students that attend the local Catholic HS joked that half (I think they did exaggerate) of the students at the local CHS were not Catholic, and if you are good at sports or are super smart you get accepted right away. I felt vindicated in a sort of strange way for thinking I made the right decision not to send my children there, and I was (am) angry. What these 3 students did not add, but I have observed, is that middle class families with more than 2 children just don’t get to attend Catholic HS. It’s too expensive. This is all very strange, my wife and I have done everything right, we have been open to life. It’s also very strange because when I attended the school the norm was 3-4-5 or six children! I have also observed something else, having attended the school 30 years ago and been receiving alumni updates on an annual basis: the family sizes are much smaller, 1 or 2 children. It seems the school pushes students to attend big schools, that require big loans and debt, some get big jobs, but all have few children. The big schools get them their big reputation, which get them more high paying students. I escaped that, and I want my children to escape that too. And what if they don’t want to go to college but want to acquire a trade after HS, don’t children have a right to a catholic education regardless of whether they are college bound or not!

I can think of four ways to “fix” this problem:
1. I read of a diocese in the mid-west that has everyone pay the same percentage of their income (TBD) when attending the school. If you make 50K then say 10% or 5K. If you make 150k then 15K. They have said it builds a sense of community. I agree. It would.
2. The fourth child is free. (More then 3 is free.)
3. Have parents teach a class. Many parents could teach one class in their work area. (I could teach any kind of math.)
4. All the students at this CHS now have an IPAD and wireless internet at home. All books are on the IPAD.
a. How about an alternating cycle of two weeks of time at the school in class, and one week of home school attending class over the internet. That would allow the school to house 1/3 more students at any given time, decreasing the cost of tuition dramatically.

I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we think of catholic HS, otherwise the future is more of what I have stated above, and less of what it should be.
CHS should be part of the community, especially for the faithful, and not elitist. It should be apart from this world, not taken by it.
What are your thoughts?

He then adds later:

Another option would be to expand CCD to include all of the high school years. The carrot on the stick paradigm for confirmation would need to change, but it would surely be worth it.

The Bishops came out with a document that outlines this recently, http://old.usccb.org/education/framework.pdf . Unfortunately it’s only for those who can afford 11K per year, not by decree, but by place of schooling implemented.

As things stand now most Catholic high schooled children only receive an 8th or 9th grade education up until confirmation.

Then they go on for bachelor and master degrees in non eternal subjects (!) and are swayed by the culture.

Not a winning strategy.

Anyone? Bueller?

  • LSUStatman

    I am a graduate of a Catholic High school (Tampa Jesuit) and a father of 4 sons who have attended Catholic High school (not Tampa Jesuit, because I no longer live there). My wife also homeschooled our four sons through at least 4th grade (the youngest went to our parish school when she started teaching at the Catholic Middle school. The others homeschooled through at least 7th grade.)
    My opinion of Catholic schools is the same as my opinion of all schools–”it depends on what you are looking for.”

    Education is a team effort, where the teacher, parent and student have to be on the same page to have success. How does this apply to Catholic schools? Well, parents must weigh the mission of the school against their desires and work from there.

    At Jesuit, we prided ourselves on being “Men for Others”, a motto that really applied well. Service was the highest priority. Academic excellence was second, but was also drilled into us as a way to become the leaders the world would need in the future. I cannot say that the theological rigor was that good; after all it was the 80′s and the PPII revolution was just getting started. That said, there was no noticeable open dissent that you find on the campuses of Jesuit colleges. The cost was high, but we were able to get some “work scholarships” as freshmen and sophomores by helping paint the walls and wax the floors in the summers. I know of no one who was not able to attend due to monetary concerns, but it’s not like I would.

    At our current school, the strength of the theological base is much better than the one I had (thanks to JPII & BXVI). Service is also a priority, and the academics are excellent but not at the level I had at Jesuit. It works for me, though as my older sons have excelled at the college of their choice. The money I have spent on their education has been well worth it. I can also tell you that I do know of cases where some families have been supplemented, either through their parish or through the school.

    All of that considered, all education right now is going through a massive culture shift that has come about as we grasp how to handle technology. Any private school that doesn’t at least attempt to get on that bus will be left behind. I personally think that the iPad phenomenon is going to have some serious road bumps that will leave some folks behind. All change is like that. But make no mistake: your local Catholic school has to have paying students to make the business model work, and to do that, they have to compete directly with other private schools. And yes, that means for Catholic students as well. I know of several faithful Catholic families that simply have chosen to send their children to the more prestigious secular private school in the area. If the Catholic school ever wants to get them back, they have to play ball in that arena.

    I applaud you for being open to life. I wish there were some way to send all Catholic children to school for free. But as generous as some are to the Church, we simply don’t collect enough money to make that happen. Catholic tithing rates fall way behind those of other Christian denominations, and the margins are so thin for most parishes that free tuition at Catholic schools isn’t coming (no matter how much I agree with Fr. Peter Stravinskas on this point). The long history of having nuns teaching for very cheap has created a culture in our parishes where we can get something for nothing. The economics in this nation simply don’t work that way.

    Catholic education through the parishes must continue to ensure that all children (and adults) grow in knowledge, faith and service. Catholic schools are a key part of that, especially where the leaders in the Catholic schools help participate in the parish education system as well.

    God Bless

    • Almario Javier

      Why not levy tuition as a flat percentage, say 5 percent of parebts’ income, with a few small increases for additional kids but stops at the 3rd kid, to encourage large families to take recourse to the Catholic schools? I know at least one diocese that does something like that. You have paying students but it allows working-class Catholics access to the Catholic school system.

      Then you could have preferential options for Catholics, where if two candidates have the same academics in elementary school but only one is Catholic, the Catholic high school will take the Catholic.

      • LSUStatman

        I would have nothing against a suggested 5% rule and other tuition ideas you pose. However, I have no expectation that it would cover the cost of education alone. Parishes would need to provide support beyond tuition to keep the doors open.

        It comes down to a chicken or egg question: Can you expand financial support before you see real indication that the student body will become more Catholic?

        • Almario Javier

          I think that’s the problem. I think quite a lot of practicing Catholics with decent amounts of money would want to contribute if they perceived that the school was actually teaching Catholic doctrine somewhat convincingly. But they want assurances that you’re not going to have a Health teacher blatantly contradict what is said in religion class, or the economics teacher doing the same. On the other hand, if the school administration targets them, they’re chasing after potentital donors who may or may not commit, but risk losing the established donors who look at the parochial school as primarily a prestige thing, and to hell with Holy Mother Church. But they are reliable givers, and like you said, Catholic schools don’t get things out of thin air. Even if you have it staffed by a teaching order like the Nashville Dominicans, or even the Jesuits today (I know quite a few very, very orthodox Jesuits who teach or used to teach at school) there’s still the physical plant, textbooks, and so forth. The problem is that most Catholic school admins, like most admins generally, are risk averse, but to solve the problem a risk of some sort needs to be taken.

    • David WS

      “The long history of having nuns teaching for very cheap has created a culture in our parishes where we can get something for nothing.”

      That may be somewhat true, but the phrase “for nothing” is extreme.

      Presently Catholic HS is no where near free, but costly and marketed as such, and this has created a new culture that drives a new “business model”. Now, can any school really claim the title “Catholic” if it’s business strategy is marketing to only select groups? And what about the 95% of Catholic school children do not have the benefit (Faith wise, not career wise) of attending and receiving a education in the faith beyond 8th grade, is this just? Is learning of our Catholic faith beyond 8th grade really all about a business model?

      We should judge things of this world accordingly, and put the priority on the eternal. That’s right-judgement, one of the 7 Gifts, and that is I think precisely where the current model of Catholic HS is off the rails.

      • LSUStatman

        I share all of your concerns, actually. Unfortunately, I have no solutions that would actually work for the schools themselves. We cannot divorce ourselves from certain economic realities. I am open to hearing ideas that would actually work to fund Catholic schools in a way where every Catholic child could attend at an affordable tuition.
        Peace.

        • David WS

          Unfortunately, I too have no solutions for the current schools (that would be accepted) and also agree with you that all of education is about to go through a massive culture shift with technology. When I suggest to parents that send their children to Catholic HS that the school should do a week on and week off schedule, home school and formal, IPOD enabled, thereby cutting tuition roughly in half, they walk away like the rich man in the Gospel. Maybe that could change, but I think that’s a
          hard nut to crack.

          I think we need to recognize that the old days of getting catholic kids out of the ghetto and into college are gone, most kids do go on to college, and will even more so
          when the technology of on-line courses expands. The key is not getting catholic kids into college; it’s about keeping the catholic in them as they go on to college.

          Besides a principle (1) of all children deserving an education in the faith beyond 8th grade in todays world, we have a principle (2) of needing a catholic culture before we have a new evangelization. One won’t occur without the other. That simply can’t be done with only a few kids being able to afford Catholic HS. In fact that works against having a catholic culture, works against having a community.

          Principles govern. If the economic reality is that Catholic HS can’t be made affordable for any and all, then we need to shift focus to a faith teaching program that continues all through HS and into college, expressly made to teach the faith and offset the secular culture. Such an economic reality would/should cause us to have to step out of the box, but we should not abandon principles.

  • Raymond

    I am a former Catholic, but we were a practicing Catholic family throughout my sons’ school ages, and they both went to Catholoc grade school and Catholic high school. I went to Catholic schools from 2nd grade to completing an undergrad degree.
    Our parochial grade school gave discounts on tuition for multi-kid families, and we had considerable “sticker shock” when our Catholic high school of choice did not have such a discount.
    But one thing that occurs in our local Catholic high schools that seems to be reflected in your experience is recruiting – athletic and scholastic. There were plenty of kids that attend specific Catholic schools who either are not Catholic or do not live in the school’s “feeder parishes” – because they had athletic talent or were high achievers academically. My family was fortunate in that I was also a high achiever academically and our high school of choice for my sons was struggling financially and they didnt turn kids away. But I often wondered whether there were kids who did not get the opportunity to go to a Catholic high school (or the school of their choice) because of outside recruitment. And I wondered whether some or all of the recruits got breaks on tuition to attract them to the school.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I sympathize with and applaud your reader.
    .
    I sympathize because we’ve been in the same boat. We wanted to send our kids to Catholic schools (once on the West Coast, once on the East), and in both cases it soon became apparent that these days Catholic education is really only for the rich. Something in the epistle of St. James seems to speak to this.
    .
    I applaud the suggested solutions. I don’t know what the solution is, because I recognize the economic reality of Catholic schools. They have to pay their teachers a living wage. The days of 10 nuns per school are gone. They have to maintain a safe building with all codes and safety features. None of that is free. But the fact that we now live in a country where a Catholic education for your kids is available only for the rich. Something has gone very, very wrong.

  • Katie in FL

    It is unfortunate that most Catholic families are priced out of Catholic schools these days, but in the past most of the teachers were nuns and brothers who did not command salaries needed to support a family. In the 1980′s, I attended a Catholic all-girl high school in Manhattan and my tuition was cheaper than my friend’s tuition at a Lutheran school in Queens because we had several teachers that were sisters and the school was subsidized by the parish.
    I think we should continue to pray for vocations and teaching orders to grow, and support the teaching of Catholic doctrine in school classes – all will learn the Church’s teaching whether they are Catholic or not.
    I don’t know about CCD through high school, but encouraging learning among ALL members of a parish – adults and kids – is a good start. My parish has a Bible study on Wed. nights, but it starts at 6:30 p.m. Many working people are just getting home from work and eating at that time, so a later start time might encourage younger people to attend. Right now, it is mostly the elderly, and that is great, but there is room for more of any age.

  • sibyl

    I do wonder whether dioceses realize the heavy, heavy burdens that being truly open to life bring to ordinary families. We all of us realize this is a hard road that we take because it is God’s will. But what really burns me is that we are told to send our kids to Catholic schools, when it is nearly impossible to afford.

    And then, many Catholic schools are simply private schools with a prep-school curriculum and a religion class thrown in. They often seem to serve as inoculation to true faith for the students later on — just enough of the “killed virus” to lead to immunity.

    No one faults Catholic schools for paying their lay teachers a living wage — especially not me, since my husband teaches in one — but it would be nice to see a bishop who understands that families just can’t afford what dioceses are offering, financially or spiritually.

  • anna lisa

    We have six boys and two daughters. We had to give up on Catholic education because of the cost as well. It was really demoralizing. Mornings and evenings of rec, and some of the programs of Opus Dei helped with our two oldest kids, but now we live over an hour away from the closest center. I wish something could be done about the current state of affairs. Your reader has some good ideas. Maybe he should send them to Pope Francis…


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