Enrollment reduction puts pressure on Roman Catholic colleges

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Roman Catholic colleges and universities face credit risk as fewer students attend church-affiliated K-12 schools, reducing what is traditionally a large pipeline of enrollments, according to a report released this week. by Moody’s Investors Service.

At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 209 Catholic elementary and secondary schools closed, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Kindergarten to 12 Catholic enrollments fell 6.4% this fall, according to the association, the largest annual decline in 50 years.

“The increase in Catholic elementary and secondary school closures is likely to reduce the percentage of Catholic students completing elementary and secondary education at institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church, a key food for Catholic colleges and universities.” Moody’s analyst Patrick McCabe said in a statement. declaration. “The number of students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools affiliated with the Catholic Church has been trending downward for some time, which is expected to accelerate with the closure and consolidation of these schools. “

Some Catholic colleges and universities enjoy strong national brands and academic reputations. Moody’s expects them to flourish. Others, smaller and regional institutions, face increasing competition for students and increasing tuition discount rates that can limit income.

Between 2010 and 2018, enrollments at all universities associated with the church fell 6%. Those with Moody’s credit ratings – which tend to be in a stronger position than the higher education market as a whole – experienced a median enrollment increase of 1.4% between 2015 and 2019, although individual cases have varied. This followed the median change in enrollment for all private universities.

Colleges and universities associated with the church can alleviate some of the pressures they face because a significant portion of their students are not Catholics, according to Moody’s. In 2010, nearly 55% of students entering four-year Roman Catholic universities identified as Roman Catholics, according to the Higher Education Research Institute. As of fall 2019, about 47% have done so.

At the same time, where American Roman Catholics live and who they are has changed. Relatively fewer Roman Catholic adults live in the Northeast and Midwest, and relatively more in the South and West. The Roman Catholic population represents a stable percentage of the nation’s population – 22% in 2019, in line with a 70-year average of 25%, according to Gallup. But the country’s increasingly Hispanic population contributes to this stability.

In 2010, more than three-quarters of freshmen at Catholic colleges and universities were white, 78%. In 2019, two-thirds were white.


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