|Cover story -- Survey of U.S. Catholics|
Issue Date: September 30, 2005
Does Catholic education make a difference?
By MARY L. GAUTIER
American Catholics have a long history of support for Catholic education for young people. After a century of building Catholic schools and spending millions to maintain them, Catholics today are wondering what impact these schools actually have. Although close to half of all Catholic children of elementary school age were enrolled in a Catholic school in 1950, today that figure is less than one in five. Does Catholic schooling make a difference? We asked a series of questions about Catholic education to take a closer look at the extent and effect of Catholic education on American Catholics attitudes and behavior.
Exposure to Catholic education
On average, American Catholics have had about eight years of education in Catholic schools. Half have attended a Catholic elementary school, about three in 10 have attended a Catholic high school, and just over one in 10 have attended a Catholic college or university. The generational differences conform to the pattern described in the paragraph above, as can be seen in Table 14. Vatican II Catholics, who attended school mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, are most likely to have attended a Catholic elementary school, high school, or college or university for at least some of their schooling. The generations after Vatican II are less likely than the Vatican II generation to have attended Catholic schools. We combined the two youngest generations into one category for this table because many of the Millennial generation are still in school and thus the small number in this sample cannot accurately reflect their total experience in Catholic schools.
Catholics who came of age before Vatican II average one extra year in Catholic schools, compared to those who were born after the council. Post-Vatican II Catholics are less likely than their parents generation to have attended a Catholic elementary school and more likely than pre-Vatican II Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school. Only about 12 percent of American Catholics of any generation have attended a Catholic college or university.
More education, higher income
Does Catholic schooling pay off for those who attend? We found that the total number of years of education in Catholic schools is positively correlated with achieving a higher level of education (.16) and with achieving a higher household income (.18). Although Catholic elementary schooling does not appear to be related to higher education or greater income, attending a Catholic high school or a Catholic college or university are associated both with higher levels of education and higher household income (see Table 15). Some 44 percent of Catholics who attended Catholic high school have graduated from college, as have more than six in 10 Catholics who attended a Catholic college or university. In contrast, only 28 percent of Catholics who did not attend a Catholic high school and 28 percent who did not attend a Catholic college have college degrees. Similarly, about half of Catholics who attended Catholic high school have incomes of $75,000 or more, compared to less than a third of Catholics who did not attend. And more than half of Catholics who attended a Catholic college or university have a household income of $75,000 or more.
In general, we found the strongest effects of Catholic education among those who attended Catholic high schools, particularly as they affect measures of attachment to the church. Those who attended a Catholic high school are more likely than those who did not to say they would never leave the Catholic church. They are more likely to say that the Catholic church is quite important or among the most important parts of their life. They are more likely to say they pray regularly and they are more likely to be high commitment Catholics on our scale of commitment to the church.
Catholic high school and parish life
Catholics who attended a Catholic high school are more likely than those who did not to be satisfied with several aspects of parish life today (see Tables 16 and 17). They agree with Catholics in general that on the whole, parish priests do a good job, but they are more likely to disagree with the statement that most priests dont expect the laity to be leaders, just followers. They are somewhat more likely to agree that Catholic churches are too big and impersonal. Nevertheless, they are more likely than lay Catholics who did not attend Catholic high school to favor merging two nearby parishes as an acceptable form of parish restructuring and they are less likely to say that closing the parish is not at all acceptable. They are also less likely to favor married priests returning to active ministry or to agree that Catholics should have the right to participate in selecting the priest for their parish.
In terms of social and political attitudes, few differences exist between those who attended a Catholic high school and those who did not. Attenders are more likely than non-attenders to identify with the Republican Party, less likely to strongly favor more government money to provide health care for poor children, and more likely to agree that you can be a good Catholic without obeying the church hierarchys teaching on birth control. But these differences are small and the overall picture is one of similarities, not differences.
Catholic schooling pays off in a number of ways. Attending a Catholic high school or a Catholic college or university pays off in greater educational attainment and higher household income. In addition, Catholics who attended a Catholic high school appear to have a stronger attachment to the church on some measures. They are somewhat more satisfied with the church as it exists today and more accepting of some of the measures many dioceses are adopting to address the shortage of priests.
National Catholic Reporter, September 30, 2005
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