January 25, 2019

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

How to help more students experience benefits of a Catholic education

(Editor’s note: The following analysis on “The Catholic School Choice” study was written by Phil Gonzalez, coordinator of Latino outreach for the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools.)

Phil GonzalezThe National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) recently released a market research study titled, “The Catholic School Choice: Understanding the Perspectives of Parents and Opportunities for More Engagement.” The purpose of this study was to measure opinions and perceptions of Catholic schools nationwide. To do so, NCEA conducted an online survey of 1,403 adult Americans from across the country.

A major finding of the survey was a disparity between parent perceptions of Catholic schools and their willingness to enroll their children in a Catholic school.

While 63 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of Catholic schools, only 51 percent were willing to consider enrolling their child in one. Survey results identified the two primary causes of this disparity to be “Parents’ concerns [or misperceptions] about the product as well as a lack of confidence they can afford the cost of tuition.”

The perception that Catholic schools are financially inaccessible is a concern for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, even as Indiana has instituted perhaps the most robust school choice legislation in the United States.

In addition to financial assistance that individual Catholic schools offer, families in Indiana may also be eligible to receive financial assistance through Tax Credit scholarships and Indiana Choice scholarships, commonly known as vouchers.

The Tax Credit and Indiana Choice scholarships were instituted by Indiana to give greater educational choice to all Indiana families by offsetting tuition costs at participating schools. During the 2017‑18 school year, 35,458 students across Indiana took advantage of the Choice Scholarship Program, an increase of 1,159 students from the prior school year.

Unique to Indiana, the Tax Credit and Indiana Choice scholarships are structured to benefit middle-income as well as low‑income families.

For example, in the 2018-19 school year a family of four with an annual income of $92,870 was eligible to receive a Tax Credit scholarship. Additionally, an eligible family of four with an annual income of $69,653 could receive a 50 percent Choice scholarship, an award that carried a value of $2,720‑$3,771 per student depending on the school corporation in which the family resided.

Awareness of these tuition assistance programs needs to be increased. A 2017 survey of Indiana parents sponsored by EdChoice, a nonprofit advocate for greater school choice, found that approximately one-third of respondents to their survey had never heard of the Tax Credit and Indiana Choice scholarships.

Awareness of these programs is critical to enrollment efforts. Parents who are aware of tuition assistance programs and who believe they can afford Catholic school tuition are more likely to consider a Catholic education for their children.

Sixty-seven percent of parents in the NCEA survey said they would be “somewhat more” or “much more” likely to consider a Catholic school if their children “qualified to receive subsidized or discounted tuition.”

Fortunately, there are strategies that Catholic schools and their stakeholders can use to increase awareness of their schools and the tuition assistance programs that make them more accessible. Some strategies include:

  • Hosting “Coffee with the Principal” meetings in the parish.
  • Increasing the visibility of information about tuition assistance programs on the school and parish websites, school social media accounts, school publications and parish bulletins.
  • Engaging parents, parishioners and community leaders as “Share Partners” who share information about the school and tuition assistance programs in meetings with families and via school‑created brochures and social media posts.

A concerted and coordinated effort by school and parish communities can address and overcome the perception that Catholic schools are financially inaccessible.

Such an effort can especially lead to these two important outcomes: to allow even more students to experience the academic and spiritual benefits of a Catholic education, and to further the evangelical mission of the Catholic Church. †

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