Rise in Catholic Preschool Enrollment by the Numbers

Father Thomas Maikowski pic
Father Thomas Maikowski

Father Thomas Maikowski is a Catholic priest who attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools during his youth. A parish administrator and director of a preschool in his parish, Father Thomas Maikowski is a strong advocate for Catholic education.

According to education industry statistics, the number of 4 year olds in all U.S. preschool programs has risen from approximately 127,000 in the 1960s to more than 2.7 million by 2013. In a research article entitled “Reaching the Youngest Hearts and Minds: Interviews with Diocesan Leaders Regarding Catholic Early Childhood Education” Dr. James Frabutt of the University of Notre Dame and Rachel Waldron of the Archdiocese of Chicago note that this surge in early childhood education enrollment provides opportunity for Catholic schools to reach more families.

According to Dr. Frabutt’s and Waldron’s 2013 survey of 15 archdioceses and dioceses across the country, an average growth of 20 percent in Catholic preschool program enrollment had occurred over a five-year period. The research found that the areas surveyed administered 498 preschool programs, which served 20,139 students during the 2011-2012 school year. The majority of the preschool programs (452) were affiliated with existing elementary schools while only 46 programs were classified as standalone preschool programs in parishes that did not have elementary schools. Overall, 80 percent of elementary schools in the archdioceses and dioceses sample had preschool programs.

The fact that many Catholic preschool programs are part of a larger Catholic elementary school makes tracking growth within early childhood education difficult to achieve. For example, the National Catholic Educational Association’s “United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2014-2015: The Annual Statistical Report on Schools, Enrollment, and Staffing” notes a nationwide Catholic elementary school enrollment of 1,359,969, but does not separate out preschool numbers. Likewise, the report counts a nationwide total of 6,568 Catholic schools, of which 5,368 are elementary schools. However, the survey does not report on how many of the 5,300-plus elementary schools offer preschool programming.