Catholic schools see record growth

The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) recently released 2021-2022 school data, which revealed a 3.8% enrollment increase for Catholic elementary and secondary schools nationwide – the first nationwide enrollment increase in 25 years. The Diocese of Raleigh saw its total current enrollment increase 8.4% in 2021-2022 and another 2.2% this year, for a two-year increase of 10.6%. This brings the total number of students currently enrolled in 28 diocesan schools to 9,467.

“Even in our growing diocese, the variety of school options has made sharing the good news of Catholic schools a priority,” explained Lytia Reese, superintendent of schools. “An increasing number of parents are making the right choice by seeking a Catholic, quality education. Teachers, administrators and pastors welcome the growth of our school communities.”

Some of the recent gains can be attributed to Catholic schools’ responses to COVID. While diocesan schools were able to quickly pivot to remote learning when required, many believe Catholic schools led the way in returning to safe and practical in-person learning. National statistics also show that young families with children entering school are choosing Catholic education more often, meaning the recent growth could become a long-term trend.

Diocesan officials also attribute some of the recent Catholic school growth to opportunity or, more specifically, Opportunity Scholarships. The Opportunity Scholarship program helps families who make below a certain amount of income pay tuition and fees at participating non-public (private) schools. Last school year, more than 900 students enrolled in diocesan schools received Opportunity Scholarships. This year that number is expected to be more than 1,100.

“Making a Catholic education available to all is a part of the mission and identity of the Church,” said Reese. “Catholic schools are woven into the history of our mission-focused diocese, and serving our diocesan communities will help us grow the future Church in eastern North Carolina.”

The recent growth trends are similar at higher grade levels. Cardinal Gibbons High School received a record number of 9th grade applications this year, the majority of which came from students in diocesan Catholic schools. In recent years the diocese’s only high school has reached its physical capacity to serve every student that applies.

Diocesan efforts are underway to explore the feasibility for a new diocesan high school to serve the Triangle region. In tandem with real estate procurement and working with local governments regarding permitting, additional financial and school site planning is underway to ensure that if, or when, a potential high school building project gets formally underway, it will have the long-term financial and community support to be sustainable.

The three independent Catholic high schools in the diocese are seeing record growth as well. Cristo Rey Research Triangle High School, located in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, opened in the fall of 2021 with 100 freshmen and plans to add a class every year until the school is at full enrollment. Also in the fall of 2021, Saint Thomas More Academy in Raleigh added a 6th grade class and will continue adding a class each year until a full middle school (grades 6-8) is completed in their newly renovated middle school building adjacent to STMA high school. In Greenville, John Paul II Catholic High School recently embarked on a facility expansion to accommodate record student growth there as well.