School enrollment in diocese slips slightly to 12,756

Catholic school enrollment in the Diocese of Peoria is again slightly less than it was the year before, continuing a trend seen locally since 2003.

“Enrollment across the nation is down,” said Brother William Dygert, CSC, diocesan superintendent of schools, placing the diocese’s numbers in a fuller context. “But our enrollment is not as down as it is nationwide.”

The total official enrollment for the current school year is 12,756 students, which is 326 fewer than in 2007-2008 — a drop of just under 3 percent.

Of the 13,082 enrolled this year, 10,022 are elementary school students and 2,734 are high school students. Of the 10,022 elementary school students, 1,301 are in pre-kindergarten programs.

The decline is “more severe in the elementary schools than in the high schools,” Brother William noted, saying the high school decline is “negligible.” Numbers of students in Catholic preschool, meanwhile, is slightly higher than last year.

“The picture is not bleak,” said Brother William. “When the numbers for Catholic school enrollment for the Midwest come out, the declines are always more dramatic (than for other regions) because enrollment in the Midwest historically has been so high.”

Catholic school enrollment in the Midwest increased in the late 1990s, but has been decreasing since then, he observed.

“We’re behind the trend,” he said.

According to Brother William, one reason for declining Catholic school enrollment is a general decline in the birthrate across the nation. Another factor is a drop in population in Midwestern states, especially in rural areas, he said.

Another important aspect of the trend, Brother William said, is that among Catholic parents who have the option to send their children to Catholic schools, fewer of them have been doing so.

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