New research from the Loyola Marymount University School of Education (SOE) shows that inner-city Los Angeles students attending Catholic schools graduate high school at a much higher rate than their peers in comparable public and charter schools.
And 96 percent were accepted into either two- or four-year colleges according to the study, conducted by SOE's Center for Catholic Education. The study closely followed a group of nearly 600 students who entered Los Angeles Archdiocesan high schools in 2008 with tuition assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
LMU researchers found that 100 percent of these students, who came from families living at or below the poverty line, graduated high school. By comparison, the high school graduation rate in the same year was 79 percent for California public school students and 67 percent for Los Angeles Unified School District students. (Comparable college acceptance and attendance data for public and charter schools are not available.)
Catholic schools achieved their results by better preparing students for rigorous college coursework, the study asserted. Researchers found that 68 percent of the Catholic school students completed the courses required by four-year colleges in California, versus 62 percent of youth in charter schools and only 37 percent in public schools. They also took the standardized SAT and ACT tests — needed to apply to most colleges — at higher rates than their public school counterparts.
Key factors in achieving not only high academic excellence but also character formation boiled down to school climate, personal relationship and tuition assistance, according to interviews with the tracked students. One alumnus spoke of a “very home-like feeling … more of a caring for you, so, therefore, I can’t disappoint these people [who] have faith in me.”
Students and their parents praised the emphasis at Catholic schools on establishing caring, supportive and personal relationships among teachers and staff with themselves. These relationships, in turn, held students accountable and encourage academic excellence. One student called his classmates “like brothers to me,” adding, “I feel like I can talk to any of them.”
Not surprisingly, tuition assistance was also a crucial factor for the students and their families. One CEF tuition assistance recipient pointed out how the grants affected his motivation.
“People really believe in me and think I can do something,” said the student. “So it’s not just for myself but always for others, too. Work hard because people believe in you, and just make them proud.”
"This study makes a compelling case for including Catholic schools — a proven model with a long track record of success, particularly for our society's most marginalized and vulnerable members — in the national conversation on education reform," said Shane P. Martin, dean and professor for the LMU School of Education and a co-author of the study.
"Ensuring that Catholic school education is affordable and accessible will provide benefits to all of society by opening the doors of opportunity while providing young people from challenging circumstances with a path to success."
This is the third phase in a longitudinal study that was first published in 2008. This latest research examined the experiences of a new group of students, with the data showing that their rates of achievement are consistent with those of previous research groups.
"Our findings support and expand upon earlier research suggesting that urban Catholic schools benefit students living in poverty," said Karie Huchting, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at LMU in the department of educational leadership. "The unfortunate reality is that these same students cannot afford tuition."
The Catholic Education Foundation was established to ensure that underserved children in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would have access to a Catholic school education. Since 1987, the CEF has given more than 132,000 tuition assistance awards to students totaling more than $136 million. There are currently 5,000 eligible students on the CEF waiting list to receive funding assistance.
"The 100 percent graduation rate and 96 percent college acceptance rate found in LMU's study testify to the tremendous impact that our Catholic schools and the Catholic Education Foundation have on students of color living in the poorest areas of Los Angeles," said Denise Martin, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation. "For most of the families we serve, Catholic schools represent the best option for a quality education."