Paying for the Parish School

November 24, 2014


Of the 244 parishes of our dataset, the majority either manage their own Catholic schools or contribute students and funding to a regional school. For these parishes, covering the expense of the schools—some of which deal with declining enrollment and rising costs per student—was a real challenge they rose to with a variety of strategies.

  1. Stewardship model. One parish in the South had adopted a “stewardship model” for managing tuition—and strictly speaking, there wasn’t Instead, the school was free to attend but the parish would estimate the cost per student and share that information with the families. Although the pastor acknowledged that the system was sometimes abused, he said that most families ended up paying that amount—or more. Said the pastor, “A lot of families end up contributing more than the cost of their children, because they recognize that they want to support the mission of the entire parish [and not just the school.]” Enrollment at that parish school is increasing upwards of 5% each year.
  2. Tithing families pay no tuition. In another, similar model, families in the parish who tithe are exempted from tuition. Said a Midwestern pastor who uses this model, “As long as you’re practicing the stewardship way of life, [your children] can go to school for free…you have a pledge form, and so there has to be a commitment of time, talent, and treasure.”
  3. Tiered tuition based on need. In another common model, tuition is tiered according to a families’ resources. A wealthy family might pay in the “top tier” while a lower-income family pays in the lowest. “Even the top tier isn’t the true cost,” said one Mountain state pastor who uses this model, “so everyone gets some kind of subsidy [from the parish].” With its current growth, this particular parish school is adding approximately 30 students and one classroom each year.
  4. Tiered based on number of children. Another basis for tiering is the number of children enrolled from a single family. If a family with six children were to pay the standard tuition for each of the six, the cost of a Catholic education will quickly be unmanageable for even the most well-off. Instead, tuition is discounted, at first moderately, and then aggressively, as more and more children from a single family are going to school. At an East coast parish school, for example, the fourth child would pay nothing—“buy three, get one free,” said the pastor.
  5. Insider/outsider rate. Perhaps the most common model is the one in which parishioners pay a discounted rate while non-parishioners pay the full rate. Community members who have interest in the school, accordingly, have a financial incentive to consider membership. Likewise, the subsidies of the parish would go largely to the children of the parish.

Of course, in nearly all of these scenarios, the parish was also still heavily subsidizing the school, having determined that whether or not a Catholic education made “financial sense” it was still very much a part of the vision of the Church. Said one pastor, “We’re trying to make a high-quality Catholic education accessible to everyone—to families that don’t have the means economically, too. You know, the future’s there, able to be realized in these children’s lives; they can have the Catholic education, too.”

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