Parochial enrollment up Baltimore Archdiocese now can hope long slide is over for Catholic schools

Enrollment in Baltimore area Catholic schools increased this fall for the second year in a row, raising hopes that two decades of decline in the popularity of parochial schools has ended, officials of the archdiocese said yesterday.

With 936 new students, total enrollment in the Archdiocese of Baltimore's elementary and secondary schools is 31,978, an increase of 3 percent over last year.


"This is enormously significant," Archbishop William H. Keeler said at a news conference. "I think it is just astounding," given the difficult economic times, he added.

The archdiocese has 71 elementary schools, seven middle schools and 23 high schools in eight counties and Baltimore City.


Each school sets its own tuition, which ranges from $1,400 to $2,400 for elementary school and $2,000 to $5,000 or more for high schools, said Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of diocesan schools. Most schools and parishes offer financial assistance, he added.

Enrollment grew in every area except the city, where it was down four-tenths of a percent, Dr. Valenti said. Despite that decrease, some of the city's more than 40 Catholic schools have waiting lists.

The largest percentage increase was in Carroll County, where enrollment grew by 17.3 percent at St. John's in Westminster, the county's one and only Catholic school, Dr. Valenti added. Enrollments in Baltimore County Catholic schools grew by 3.5 percent; in Anne Arundel by 6.1 percent; in Harford County, 9.9 percent; and in Howard County, 12.1 percent.

The archbishop said the increase proves that parents are choosing Catholic schools "because of what they see in terms of order and the moral values taught there."

The schools also offer academic incentives, he said. For instance, studies show that 94 percent to 95 percent of the students in Catholic high schools graduate and more than 90 percent of them attend college, the average teacher-student ratio is 16 to 1, and no class "goes above 30," said Dr. Valenti,

This year's increase follows last year's 1 percent growth in enrollment. Before that, the Catholic schools had been losing students gradually since the early 1970s, said Christine Rusk, the schools' director of marketing and public relations.

In 1979, the earliest year for which she had enrollment figures, there were 42,879 students in Catholic schools, she said. That number continued to fall until 1990-1991, when there were 30,671 students in the schools.

In 1989, the archdiocese began an extensive marketing program to attract students. The Knott Foundation sponsors this program, at the cost of about $150,000 a year, said Ms. Rusk. "I think there are a lot of things we can attribute it [the increase] to. The marketing program is one of them."


About 23 percent of the students in Baltimore area Catholic schools are not Catholics, Dr. Valenti said. The national average for non-Catholic students in Catholic schools is about 12 percent, he added.

Here are some other figures:

* More than 81 percent of students in Baltimore-area Catholic schools are white; 14 percent are black and 4.3 percent represent other minorities.

* Nearly 70 percent of the students are in elementary schools, 27.5 are in high schools and 3.2 percent in middle schools.

* Elementary enrollment is up 3.6 percent; high school enrollment up 2.3 percent, and middle school enrollment down 3.5 percent.