There has been a gradual decline in Catholic school enrollments over the last 35 years across the nation. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, enrollment at all Catholic schools has gone from 2.6 million in the 1993-2004 school year to 2.5 million during the 2003-2004. Especially for the Mideast and Great Lakes regions, the rate decreased by 9.2 percent over the past decade.
Since low enrollment rate is rising as a big problem for Catholic schools, Michigan state is planning on a yearlong project to improve educational offerings and raise money at the county level.
For the first time in Jackson County, the area’s seven Catholic schools will come together to do a yearlong study on ways to draw more students into the parochial school system, to slow down stop the declining enrollment, to improve educational offerings and to raise money for area schools.
"It's critical to planning the future of the schools," said Michael Diebold, the diocese spokesman. "We are always looking to move forward."
With the goal of implementing suggested changes in local schools by late spring 2005, the study will include interviewing local church and school officials, compiling demographic information and conducting a parent survey.
Most local parochial schools in Michigan have been struggling to maintain or grow enrollment in recent years. Faith Christian Academy, which now houses the Jackson Arts and Technology Academy, closed its doors in 2002 due to declining enrollment.
Local schools that are participating in the study include Jackson Catholic Middle School, Lumen Christi High School, Queen of the Miraculous Medal, St. John, St. Joseph, St. Mary and Our Lady of Fatima elementary schools. All are in Jackson, except for Our Lady of Fatima in Michigan Center.
Queen of the Miraculous Medal Principal Matthew Vokoun said he is interested in finding ways to increase enrollment through the study. It has been only few years since the school experienced its enrollment slip.
"That's going to tell a lot of what has gone on in the past and what we can expect in the future," he said.
At St. Joseph School, teacher Diane Lefebvre said the study could give Catholic schools a boost. As she was teaching for 18 years, she witnessed enrollment drop from about 150 students to about 65.
"Just marketing ourselves better is a solution," she said. "A lot of people don't know what we offer. We should make that more available."
According to Lefebvre, starting of charter schools and schools of choice are some of the suggestions that parents make in dealing with enrollment crisis.
"It's a problem for all the private schools right now," she said. "There are so many choices the parents have."