One of the hot topics during our family’s Christmas gathering was Catholic education. My oldest niece is a senior in high school, and as with everyone her age, she is consumed with selecting a college. Her parents are allowing her some freedom, but prefer that she attends a college with a good, Catholic environment.
They were all impressed with The Catholic University of America. For my sister and brother-in-law, it was local and had a good religious atmosphere, and for my niece, it had solid academic programs and quick access to the city.
I spent many years at CUA, earning my doctorate, and my sister asked my opinion of the school. I enjoyed my time there, and heartily approved. Then, I heard the price - $52,852. (I had my tuition covered through a teaching assistantship).
Having spent a lot of time in higher education, I know that tuition costs have escalated across the board, but there is something wrong with charging a teenager $52,852 for one year of college. Indebting a young adult with $211,000 in loans is not Catholic, and borders on being immoral.
After recovering from the shock, I reviewed a lot of other Catholic colleges. While many are cheaper than CUA, it pains me that all the schools were over six figures for four years of education. In good conscience, I could not recommend these schools to my niece unless she received a substantial scholarship.
My own family is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with my son entering kindergarten in the fall. I desperately want to send him to our parish school, and if we made some sacrifices, we could afford to send him there. Cutting out money budgeted for cable TV, going out to eat, and vacations would get us halfway there, and teaching extra classes would cover the other half. Here’s the problem. We have another son, and we would like to have more children. Since our parish has no family discount, what will we do in the future?
Over the Christmas break, I also spoke with my brother-in-law’s brother, who has six children in Catholic elementary and high schools. He spends over $50,000 a year on tuition. That’s not cable and Starbuck’s. That’s our entire post-taxes income.
Here’s the crux of the issue. Unless you have one or maybe two children or you’re incredibly wealthy, Catholic education is out of reach. That’s saddens me greatly. As a teacher, I understand the importance of education. Outside of the family, school is the most importance influence on a child.
Why is Catholic education so expensive? First, it is not going to the teachers. For a short time, I taught at a Catholic school. My mother, two siblings, and countless friends have also taught at Catholic schools, and the pay is, well, not very good. Catholic school teachers work just as hard but are paid far less than their public school counterparts, and they deserve our gratitude.
From a historical perspective, I see two main causes in the increase of tuition costs at Catholic schools from fifty years ago. First, the number of nuns, brothers and priests teaching at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore dropped from 2,122 in 1964 to 1,328 in 1974, and lay teachers, who required a salary, increased from 605 to 1530. In the same era, the number of parochial schools dropped from 108 to 87. I assume as a result of increased costs. The second cause, for which I don’t have any data, is the drop in parish contributions. Suffice it to say, fifty years ago, a lot of people threw a dollar in the collection basket, and today, a lot people still throw just a dollar in.
What can be done? It seems unfair that individuals who send their children to Catholic schools have to pay twice: once for public schools through taxes and again for Catholic schools through tuition. If a voucher program could be initiated, allowing some of the tax money paid by the individual to go to a Catholic school, it would make Catholic education far more affordable. The power of choice and competition would also improve the whole school system – public and Catholic.
Secondly, Catholic schools could trim their budgets. My greatest pet peeve is massive sports programs at Catholic schools. I am a huge fan of sports, and I think everyone should play sports to increase physical health, discipline, and teamwork. I don’t see the benefit of stadiums and state-of-art workout facilities, and hypercompetitive interscholastic leagues. I wish the fundraising for football teams could go instead to scholarships.
Thirdly, it takes the whole parish community to lower costs. It can only be done if everyone chips in with their time and money. Everyone needs to help, but I have a special petition for the uber-wealthy Catholic. It might be nice to have a building named after you or to purchase new, flashy technology, like SMART Boards for all the classrooms. Yet, education can be done without any of these exciting products. I suggest endowing a scholarship fund for Catholic schools. It’s not flashy, but if I had money, that’s what I would do with it.
You see many of these principles playing out in home schooling co-ops. They are a community effort, built by volunteers without the frills of some of the more expensive schools. They are affordable and focused on building up the faith.
However, I prefer Catholic schools and want to save them. School administrators have to make a very important choice. Enrollment is declining in many of their schools. How are they going to increase it?
Are Catholic schools going to become schools for the elite with the excessively high tuition pushing away many Catholic families, especially large Catholic families? Are the large donations going to build grand buildings, top sports program, and high tech classrooms? Or, are administrators going to everything they can to lower tuition costs? Both strategies might attract students, but the former will mean more elites, and the later will result in more Catholics.
January 07, 2014 12:05
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Matt Walsh’s recent blog on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday controversy titled If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem surprisingly takes aim at the American consumer. Typically, outrage concerning the increasing hours of Thanksgiving shopping is directed at major retailers, but Walsh points out that retailers need customers. If people did not shop on Thanksgiving, then the stores would not be open for the holiday.
It is easy to complain about the changing tradition of Thanksgiving. Last year, I warned that the traditional Thanksgiving family dinner could go the way of the Dodo bird, into extinction. I wrote about the sad transition:
At one point, our country valued giving God thanks, and for one day a year, we collectively expressed our gratitude to God for our food, homes, family, and country. The former importance of Thanksgiving is a testament to the Christian heritage of his country, but sentiments have changed, greatly diminishing the significance of the holiday. In its place, Black Friday has arisen.
Black Friday represents America’s obsession with stuff. In a few days, millions of Americans will wait hours in line, trample those who get in their way, and then fight to grab the latest must-have item, all in the name of a bargain. More than another event, Black Friday demonstrates the materialism and greed that has infiltrated our culture.
As I have continued to reflect on the sad state of Thanksgiving, I have begun to realize that the hostile takeover of Thanksgiving by Black Friday is not the main the problem. More troubling is that the cultural struggle is to keep two, ONLY TWO, days for God and family: Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year reserved for family
Nearly everyone concedes there are 363 days a year for shopping. The only difference is that “social conservatives” are arguing for only 363 days of shopping, and the retailers are pushing for 365 days. That’s not a big difference.
Christmas already has become so absorbed by consumerism that it’s hard to find a young child that values the birth of Jesus over presents and Santa, and sadly, we’re witnessing the decline of Thanksgiving before our very own eyes the past few years.
Somehow, you are considered a countercultural radical if suggest two days, let me repeat TWO DAYS, with no shopping. That’s not the Catholic perspective. Rather, a clear priority exists in our faith: God, family, and then somewhere toward the bottom, shopping.
We need to abate our obsession with shopping, and find time to rest every week. It’s pretty clear in the Bible: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” And in the Catholic Catechism, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body."
We shouldn’t embrace Sunday as a day of rest just because is a commandment and emphasized in the Catechism. It is also a wonderful and enjoyable practice. Growing up, I loved Sundays. We would get up leisurely, go to Mass, have a family brunch, and then play games as a family. There was no shopping, no activities, not even homework until the evening. It was a day for worshiping God and leisure time with the family. I cherished it.
If you are too busy Monday through Saturday that you must shop on Sunday, then you are too busy. Look at your schedule, and take something out. The 34 hours of television the average American watches per week, might be a good place to start, but do not skimp on God and family time.
Moreover, think of all the retail workers who are required to work on Sunday. They cannot go to church, they cannot rest, and they cannot spend time with their families.
Some might counter that it’s an economic necessity for stores and restaurants to be open on Sunday. I would respond that Chick-fil-A seems to be expanding even though they are closed on Sunday. Likewise, Paramus, New Jersey is one of the largest retail centers in the world, doing $5 billion in retail sales per year, but none of it on Sunday because of the town’s strict blue laws.
It would be wonderful to have one day per week where there is no traffic, no shopping stress, no running around. Even if a person is not religious or even Christian, they would agree that some down time with those that matter the most is a good thing.
Matt Walsh points out in his blog that there is a level of hypocrisy in individuals who complain about stores being open on Thanksgiving and then go shopping on Thanksgiving. I find it equally odd that proponents of family time and defenders of traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas practices fail to mention the collapse of Sunday as a day of rest.
I see the root cause of the increased amount of shopping on Thanksgiving not due to greedy retails stores or even shoppers hungry for a good deal. Rather, it is due to the blurring of sacred time and profane time, or more specially, the decline of sacred time. Sacred time is special time set aside for God, when worldly activities are suspended. Once the idea of sacred time, with Sunday at its center, decreased in importance, it was only a matter of time before all holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas included, were overrun by consumerism.
Are you upset with the collapse of Thanksgiving? Then, do something. Matt Walsh suggests we set out by not shopping on Thanksgiving. It’s a start, but we need to go farther than building a cultural defensive wall around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I suggest we begin by re-sanctifying time, holding holy each and every Sunday.
November 26, 2013 04:23
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi