Enrollment at Catholic schools this academic year has seen its largest drop in nearly half a century, according to a new report.

A data brief of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) showed that enrollment at Catholic schools was down 6.4% for the 2020-2021 school year—the biggest percentage drop in enrollment since 1973. 

The overall number of students at Catholic schools declined by more than 110,000 for the present academic year, and more than 200 schools closed after the previous school year; these figures were included in the NCEA’s report “Catholic School Enrollment and School Closures, Post-COVID-19,” published on Feb. 8.

A large share of this decline was due to enrollment attrition at pre-Kindergarten schools.

“Of the net loss of 111,000 students to Catholic schools from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, 40% of that loss can be attributed to Pre-Kindergarten related enrollment attrition,” the NCEA said. “This mirrors similar losses in public school preschool and Kindergarten enrollment.” 

Catholic elementary education also saw a sharper decline, compared to Catholic secondary schools.  

Enrollment at Catholic elementary schools was down 8.1% in 2020-2021, compared to a decrease of 2.5% Catholic secondary schools. The enrollment figures for secondary schools decreased the same amount in 2020-2021 compared to the 2019-2020 school year, but Catholic elementary schools lost nearly 5% more students this academic year than last year. 

The drop in enrollment amid the COVID-19 pandemic far outpaces the declines that followed the Church’s 2002 clergy sex abuse crisis and the 2008 financial crisis. 

Full story at Catholic News Agency.