Archdiocese more than doubles tuition aid to help families in tough economic times

August 08, 2008

With the economy hitting people hard in the wallet, even a modest school tuition can become a challenge. The tuition rate at parish schools already is set below cost, but in an effort to help parents even further, the Archdiocese of Washington has more than doubled its tuition assistance funds this year – offering nearly $2 million versus $800,000 a year ago. The increase is possible through the generosity of donors who wanted to support this initiative and a new program being piloted in nine elementary schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

“We know many parents this year are facing very difficult financial choices. Whether to keep their child in a Catholic school shouldn’t be one of them. We have been working very hard to find new ways to help our families,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools.

The nearly $2 million in aid includes $1.5 million in regular tuition assistance. This is an expansion over the annual aid the archdiocese offers for students at Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese. Another $400,000 is earmarked for nine schools participating in a pilot program called the Tuition Assistance Opportunity Fund.

Typically, schools with significant operating deficits seek grants each year from an archdiocesan Education Fund to cover their deficits. The fund comes from parish contributions. Last year, the pastors who administer the Education Fund distributed $1.3 million to 19 schools in financial need. This year, nine schools received a portion of the funds that they would have received anyway not as operating subsidies, but as tuition assistance. The schools can use the funds to provide partial-tuition awards to retain and attract new students who could not otherwise attend. The goal of the pilot is to assess if distributing funds in this way will increase enrollment, helping families and also reducing the school’s need for operating subsidies because the additional students are contributing some tuition. Initial results are positive and additional funds from donors have been added to the pilot.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, Monsignor Eddie Tolentino, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel parish, used a $15,000 tuition grant to add 14 new students and retain two. Those students are bringing with them $54,000 in tuition. At Little Flower School in Great Mills, enrollment is up to 182 students from 171 last year according to Father Joseph Sileo, pastor of Holy Face parish. The school used $19,000 in tuition aid to recruit 18 new students and retain two who otherwise would have had to leave. Other schools receiving extra funds are St. Augustine School and St. Thomas More School in Washington, DC; St. Mary Star of the Sea in Indian Head; St. Michael in Ridge; and Holy Angels-Sacred Heart in Avenue; St. Catherine Laboure in Wheaton and St. Mary Piscataway in Clinton.

“Several schools participating in the Tuition Assistance Opportunity Fund have reported strong enrollments, which is very encouraging. This partnership with parishes and schools will help families be able to give their children an excellent Catholic education,” Weitzel-O’Neill said.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to 98 Catholic schools in the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]