Enrollment in Catholic schools is on the rise in the Archdiocese of Louisville and leaders are attributing it to several factors, including financial accessibility and an approach to teaching the whole child.
Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent, said Catholic schools from preschool through high school have a “commitment to the whole child,” creating a nurturing environment that families are searching for.
That combined with greater access to financial assistance and the capacity to respond to the needs of families has driven an increase in enrollment for three years in a row, she said.
Preschool enrollment is up by five percent. Kindergarten through eighth grade has seen an increase of two percent. And high schools have experienced an increase in enrollment of three percent. Total enrollment stands at 18,727.
Richard Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation, said affordability is the number one issue families face when thinking of a Catholic education for their children.
“We certainly see that every day in our work,” he said.
Nine years ago, Lechleiter said, the foundation and the archdiocese together decided to expand fundraising for tuition assistance with the Catholic Elementary School Plan, launched in 2014.
“It doubled our revenue. It was a threshold event in the foundation’s 27-year history,” said Lechleiter. “It gave us the confidence to expand our outreach.”
The foundation went into communities, particularly the south-end and west-end communities, to let families know that assistance was available for their children to have a Catholic education, he noted.
This year the foundation assisted 3,700 students, providing $8 million in funding.
Lechleiter noted that financial aid is “part but not the only thing” driving growth. “Access (to assistance) and formation in the Catholic tradition, it’s a powerful combination and we’re changing this community. The more of that we do, the better off our community will be.”
He added that the foundation is working hard to assure families that, if they qualify, they’ll receive aid every year, “giving parents the confidence to take that step.”
Bowling also attributed some growth to the flexibility of Catholic schools in responding to student needs, demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, parents “re-evaluated what they want for their child,” Bowling said. “Once they looked, they came and they stayed.”
School leaders were pleased by the five percent increase in preschool enrollment, noting that it speaks to future growth and offers an opportunity to welcome families.
Mary Parola, school improvement and professional learning specialist, said schools consider it important to integrate pre-schoolers and their families into the school community.
There’s a ”concerted effort to make them part of the school,” Parola said. She noted preschoolers attend school-wide Masses and many have opportunities to interact with other students through programs such as “reading buddies.”