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The Cost Of Catholic High Schools

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By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

The June 15 edition of this column centered on the difficulty that Catholic families face these days because of the high tuition costs at Catholic high schools. I used as examples two high schools in the area of Connecticut where I live: the Jesuits’ Fairfield Prep, with tuition around $20,000 per year and Notre Dame of West Haven, operated by the Holy Cross Brothers, which costs close to $15,000 per year. I asked our readers to give examples in other parts of the country to see if the situation in Connecticut may be an anomaly.
It is not an anomaly. D.A.I. of Bethany Beach, Del., tells us that her grandson’s tuition “at Georgetown Prep in D.C. is over $33,000 per year. His sister in the eighth grade is next door at Stone Ridge Academy where the tuition is $30,000 per year.” Stone Ridge describes itself as part of “the Sacred Heart Network of over two hundred schools.” D.A.I suggests jokingly that she suspects that her “son-in-law must rob banks for a living” to be able to afford these costs. D.A.I. notes that when she was a girl in the 1950s her Catholic grade school “was free,” and that Notre Dame Prep, her high school, “charged $260 per year.”
Inflation does not fully explain this increase in cost. Can I prove that? I can. I’ll use myself as an example. My tuition at Fordham University in the early 1960s was around $1,000 per year. How much is that in 2017 dollars? Rather than resort to economic charts, I can illustrate my point by focusing on the purchasing power of the dollar. I was able to pay my tuition at Fordham with what I earned from my part-time job, with plenty of money to spare. Many of my classmates at Fordham also paid their own tuition. No modern student could pay the $40,000 or $50,000 tuition at a modern Catholic college with money from a part-time job.
Were there more Jesuits teaching at Fordham when I was a student than now? Yes. About half my teachers were Jesuit priests. But there has to be something else that accounts for the dramatic increases in tuition payments. Is it the “plush” gyms, dorms, and student centers? I don’t know: They are not that plush.
C.M. of Virginia notes that the late University of Notre Dame Professor “Charles E. Rice wrote about how in the 1940s and 1950s Notre Dame kept its tuition low so that blue-collar guys could afford to attend the school. The decision was specifically made to keep the endowment low and use donations as much as possible for keeping costs down. Now Notre Dame is $70,000 per year.”
Is that the explanation? Schools such as Yale and Harvard have endowments in the billions of dollars. Some Catholic colleges, such as Notre Dame, also have huge endowments, even if not in the same category as Harvard’s and Yale’s. These schools would be able to permit many of their students to attend at a very low cost by tapping that endowment money.
But these schools deliberately choose not to do that, contending it makes more sense — for financial reasons and to enhance their prestige — to require high tuition payments from those families that can afford it, while subsidizing only low-income students and those in special categories, such as athletes and members of the school’s debate team.
C.M. observes that expensive Catholic high schools “seem to think they can play Notre Dame/Georgetown’s game. I don’t think it will work for long. Let’s wait until this generation of college grads, still paying down their debt 25 years from now, are told their Catholic schools will cost (in 2017 dollars) $15-$25k per year.”
We might not have to wait that long for the backlash to start. L.F.P. of St. Louis writes of his decision about his daughter’s Catholic education: “My daughter is going into third grade at a Catholic grade school. At first I had no doubt I was providing the best Catholic and academic education possible. But it became clear to me by the time my daughter was in the second grade that the school was more devoted to carrying out the Common Core curriculum than solid catechesis.”
L.F.P. informs us he will keep his daughter at her current Catholic grade school, “tutoring her in math on the weekends, and making sure the faith is lived at home.” But high school is a different matter. L.F.P. is vetting the available choices in the St. Louis area.
One school has an LGBT after-school club. And another reportedly had a Muslim woman speak to students about why she was OK with the likely truth that Mohammed had a consummated marriage with a nine-year-old.
L.F.P. sees the choice that faces Catholic parents as follows: “A) Save your money and bet on your parenting/domestic catechesis by sending your kids to public school, hoping they don’t fall in with the wrong crowd. Or, B) Dish out the cash for Catholic school and bet on your parenting/domestic catechesis to correct the moral relativism that they will likely be taught there, hoping they don’t fall in with the cafeteria Catholics.”
D.S. of Ohio, a father of four, is similarly discouraged by the choices facing Catholic parents. He writes, “Several years ago I was looking into the local Catholic high school and what they were teaching in literature. The school was assigning secular books such as The Hunger Games. I have also read where the Catholic high schools had kids read the Harry Potter series. I have nothing against these books but spending thousands of dollars in tuition for this kind of instruction does not make sense.
“Catholic schools should provide something different.” What does J.S. have in mind? “I expect the classics to be taught, including a little G.K. Chesterton. I wrote to the English teacher at the school and received no reply. Is this the type of ‘Catholic’ school I want? Absolutely not. I am currently home-schooling my grade-school children. If I lived closer to a Chesterton Academy, such as the one started up by Dale Ahlquist, I’d send my kids there for high school, where all subjects are intertwined with Christ as the center.
“I think Catholic parents are sending their kids to public schools not only because of cost but because Catholic schools seem to be no different from secular schools. If this is the case, why bother spending tens of thousands of dollars?”

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.

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