Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families: Insights from the 2014 National Survey

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholic Schools Serving Hispanic Families: Insights from the 2014 National Survey

Article excerpt

Catholicism in the United States, from its very beginnings, has been shaped by the experiences of millions of immigrants and their descendants. New voices bring hope, fresh energy, and, of course, challenges that often require adjustments on the part of ecclesial structures. In the 1800s and early 1900s, immigrants from Europe made incredible contributions to the American Catholic experience, particularly through Catholic schools. Today, immigrants and their children, mostly from Latin America, yet also from Asia and Africa, are transforming that experience. Supporters of Catholic education enjoy a unique opportunity to build upon the best experiences of Catholic education in the United States, while reimagining what this important commitment can be in the 21st century, particularly in a church that is increasingly Hispanic.

In the mid-20th century, Hispanic Catholics were a small, practically unnoticed minority within the Church. Living mostly in the Southwest with pockets of presence in larger urban settings, Hispanic Catholics constituted approximately 5% of the total U.S. Catholic population. Since that time, Hispanic Catholics rapidly have become perhaps the most significant force transforming contemporary U.S. Catholicism. More than 40% of all Catholics in the US are Hispanic. Even more interesting is the fact that approximately 60% of Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic. Of these, more than 90% were born in the United States (Ospino, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2013).

How are Catholic schools responding to such demographic changes and the challenge of educating the next generation of American Catholics? The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) reports that only 15% (296,186) of students enrolled in Catholic schools in 2013-2014 and 15.3% (296,903) of students enrolled in 2014-2015 were Hispanic (McDonald & Schultz, 2015). Given the latest enrollment data, we observe that of the total Hispanic school age population (approx. 12.4 million nationwide), only 2.3% (296,203) are enrolled in Catholic Schools. The numbers are without a doubt sobering. Even under commendable efforts like the Catholic School Advantage led by University of Notre Dame and local diocesan initiatives to increase enrollment of Hispanic children in Catholic schools, which have captured the imagination of Catholic pastoral and educational leaders at the national level (Alliance for Catholic Education, 2013), the total enrollment of Hispanic children in Catholic schools remains almost stagnant.

Researchers, educators, and pastoral agents may be too quick to question school leaders about why Catholic schools have such low enrollment of Hispanic students and do not exhibit more determined efforts to engage Hispanic families. While more can always be done to address these areas, it is important to underline that the exponential growth of Hispanic Catholic school-age children, especially in the last two decades, has unfortunately coincided with a massive decline in the Catholic school educational system and its resources. The total number of Catholic schools in the US has gone from more than 13,000 half a century ago to 6,568 in 2015. Total enrollment has followed suit, moving from nearly 5.2 million students to less than 2 million in 2015. During the last 15 years alone, student enrollment in Catholic schools has gone from 2.6 million in 2000 to 1.9 million in 2015. In the meantime, 26% of Catholic schools closed. This phenomenon has been more pronounced in urban neighborhoods in the last 10 years. Since 2005, enrollment in the 12 largest urban arch/dioceses in the country has declined by 30% (McDonald, & Schultz, 2015).

Multiple reasons have been identified as leading to the closing of Catholic schools and the deterioration of the Catholic educational network that once educated 55% of all Catholic children in the US. Most of these reasons are largely associated with socioeconomic and demographic changes. …

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