March 6, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 12

current issue
archive / search

    Urban minorities benefit most from Catholic schools

    Study shows greater earning power, more college degrees African-American and Hispanic students in urban areas benefit most from attending Catholic schools, achieving higher graduation rates from high school and college than students from similar backgrounds who attend public schools, according to new research by Derek Neal, Associate Professor in Economics. Neal's findings are reported in "The Effects of Catholic Secondary School on Educational Achievement," published in the March issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.

    Compared with their public-school counterparts, more than twice as many minority Catholic-school graduates from urban areas finish college: 27 percent of the Catholic-school graduates finish college, while only 11 percent of minority public-school graduates receive their degrees. And while 62 percent of minority students at urban public high schools graduate, 88 percent of students from the same background complete high school when enrolled in Catholic schools, according to the study.

    The opportunity to attend Catholic schools could play an important role in overcoming poverty among urban minorities, Neal said. "In today's labor market, young adults who finish high school -- even if they do not finish college -- earn at least 15 percent more than high school dropouts. Those who finish college earn even more." Higher college completion rates suggest that urban Catholic-school students actually learn more than similar public-school students who complete the same amount of formal schooling, Neal said. "Urban minorities receive significant benefits from Catholic schooling because their public-school alternatives are substantially worse than those of whites or other minorities who live in non-urban areas."

    White students also benefit from attending Catholic schools, but the difference in completion rates between white Catholic-school students and those of their public-school counterparts are less dramatic. While 87 percent of white students in urban areas graduate when enrolled in Catholic schools, 75 percent of the white public-school students receive their diplomas. Among white Catholic-school graduates, 42 percent of those who enter college receive a degree, while 31 percent of the white public-school graduates who enter college finish their studies.

    Scholars at the University have studied Catholic schools for many years. The late James Coleman, Professor in Sociology, identified strong school communities as one reason for higher achievement in Catholic schools. Anthony Bryk, Professor in Education and the College, has found that a strong core curriculum gives Catholic schools an advantage.

    Neal's study is among the first to look at college completion as a measure of the impact of Catholic schools on students. For his work, Neal relied on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has been following 12,686 people who were between 14 and 21 years of age in 1978. The survey gathered information on high school enrollment, graduation and college completion of students graduating in the late 1970s and early 1980s. -- William Harms