Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Value of Catholic Education – Best Bang for the Buck!

By Wayne Morse

No doubt about it, the value of Catholic Education is constantly on the mind of school parents and families, and it’s on Catholic educators’ minds as well. Catholic schools in Cincinnati, where I work, operate in school districts where the quality of education is high and the cost for the family is virtually nothing. So what makes a Catholic School a good value?

Like any question about value – there are two sides to the equation – cost and benefit. The cost of operating Catholic schools is a fraction of the cost of public schools. This is primarily due to two things: our teachers and staff are not compensated at the same levels as public school staff, and our schools are subsidized through parish support and institutional fundraising.

Why would our teachers and staff work for less? It’s because working in Catholic Education is viewed as a ministry, a vocation, a calling to serve our children and pass on the faith to the next generation. In elementary schools, parishes provide 25 percent or more of the cost of operating the school. This represents a large share of the ministerial capacity of our parishes, routinely one-third or more of the parish budget. Our high schools expend significant fundraising effort to offset their costs, and the primary donors are the alumni of the school – those that have lived the experience themselves and know firsthand the impact that Catholic Schools played in their lives.

Why would parishes and alumni continue to support our schools at such a hefty price? It’s the same answer as before; it’s a part of our faith, a ministry of the Church and a sign of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. Do we struggle to make ends meet? You bet we do. We’re always looking for cost savings, and new funding avenues. We struggle keeping our school tuition affordable for as many as possible while providing fair and equitable compensation for our staff.

On the benefit side of the value equation, we look at many measures to substantiate our school’s value, things like:

· Our students consistently outperform national norms on standardized tests. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, elementary schools produced academic results that were more than 2 grade years ahead of national norms (our 8th graders tested well into 10th grade academic levels). Not only that, we see students grow consistently as they progress through elementary schools (from 1 year ahead of norms in 3rd grade to 2+ years by the 8th grade).

· Our high schools also outperform national norms on standardized test. ACT scores for 2013 showed that our students were consistently ranked above the 70th percentile in English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and Composition rankings.

· Our strong academic results open the door to success at the college level. For example, over 2/3rds of graduating high school students in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati earn merit based scholarships for college, totaling over $250 million per year, an average of more than $75,000 per student. Catholic schools represent a strong investment that prepare our students for college and provide a direct payout in college affordability.

These are great results, no doubt about it. Our heritage continues in strong academics. We educate the whole child as well, through challenging extra-curricular activities: sports, fine arts, performance arts, music and a multitude of academic and cultural clubs and organizations.

However, we still don’t think these are the most important values of Catholic Education. That is raising our children in the Catholic faith. Teaching the Catholic faith and values, worshiping as community, and putting our faith into action through service of others, these are all part of the witness we pass on to students. People recognize our students as people with a strong moral foundation, persons of character and determination, people of service, fully prepared to assume leadership roles in discipleship of the Catholic faith throughout the world for the rest of their lives.

Across a wide spectrum, we develop talent, intellect and souls. When you put together the costs and benefits of a Catholic education, we believe the value is – priceless.


Wayne Morse is associate director of school finances in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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