Amid economic stress, philanthropy plays a growing role in financing Catholic education
January 27th, 2010
By Rick DelVecchio
Philanthropy is playing a growing role in financing Catholic K-12 schools as donors step up in a harsh economic environment to preserve the Catholic education model for a new generation of children.
“This kind of large-scale philanthropy to kids in grade school and high school is part of a new movement,” said Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, in an interview with Catholic San Francisco. “It’s gone on for awhile, but it’s taken off around the country.”
She said a variety of projects are emerging around the country to support grade schools and high schools, including donor pools such as the Big Shoulder Fund in Chicago and the Crossroads Foundation in Pittsburgh.
Ristau said these are examples of “great programs where philanthropists have come together, and they really raise substantial money. The money does two things: It pays for tuition, and once the kids are in these programs, they’re never dropped. Some have mentorships, some help the bricks and mortar part of the school.”
The main goal of the Crossroads Foundation is to prepare students for college. Students who qualify are assigned mentors.
A similar project is the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Fulcrum Foundation, formed in 2002. It provides financial support for all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle through annual fund-raising and a significantly increased endowment.
In Utah’s statewide Diocese of Salt Lake City, the newly created Sponsor a Scholarship project invites donors to contribute directly to the diocesan schools. Envelopes for the collection were distributed to all parishes in December. Donors had the option of designating the school of their choice. Any contributions not directed to individual schools were be pooled to support the most economically needy schools in the diocese.
Holy Cross Sister Catherine Kamphaus, the Seattle diocese’s schools superintendent, said the contributions will allow the diocese to boost tuition aid at a time when more help is greatly needed.
“We’re not losing students as much as we’re losing money, because more people are applying for assistance,” Sister Kamphaus said.
Ristau said the growing interest in both foundation and individual support is “just a sign of such goodness from people who truly believe in Catholic education. Truly, because of the kind of money they are giving, they really want to help the next generation of kids.”
She attributed much of the generosity to older donors who realize that Catholic schools can’t be taken for granted.
In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, funds from archdiocesan, school-based and private endowments and annual donations support thousands of students from financially eligible families. But there is not enough to reach all qualifying families.
In addition, the recession created a new group of financially struggling families among the middle class, who in the past had the means to pay for private school tuition.
“The need-based population is underserved,” Assistant Superintendent Annette Brown said. “In addition, there’s a middle class that cannot qualify for need-based aid because they make too much money, but they can’t afford the schools, especially if they have more than one child.”
Brown added: “Families find it increasingly difficult to afford a Catholic education.”
K-12 enrollment in Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese was 25,186 in September, down 1,836 from five years earlier. K-8 enrollment fell by 361 from September 2008, a drop of more than 2 percent.
Brown said higher philanthropic giving could turn the trend around.
“Half of our high schools are at capacity, and half would benefit greatly by increasing enrollment to levels in past years,” she said. “Of our 62 elementary schools, 40 schools have enrollment less than five years ago. Increased enrollment would benefit the school not only financially but in ability to offer more programs.”
One aspect of supporting Catholic education that appeals to donors is that well-targeted aid can have a measurable, life-changing impact. D’Genaro Pulido, now a junior at the University of San Francisco, is a case in point.
D’Genaro and his family came to San Francisco from Peru when he was 4. He attended a public school from kindergarten through second grade, but the experience was underwhelming.
“I came back with one sheet of homework,” he recalled. “I did it in 10 minutes. My mom would keep me up to 12 a night doing math problems.”
He said his parents wanted a better education for him and switched him to the parochial school in their Mission District neighborhood, St. Charles Borromeo. He thrived at St. Charles and in sixth grade participated in a summer program at St. Ignatius Preparatory School, where he met the donor who would help him on his way to college and a career as an architect.
The donor liked D’Genaro’s motivation and awarded him scholarships that paid for most of his high-school education. The same donor helped his older sister and is helping his younger brother.
“I guess what he saw in me was the effort and motivation I had,” D’Genaro said. “I explained to him that I’m going to be the first generation to go to college, and I’ll be the first generation that actually becomes a professional.”
D’Genaro’s sponsor chooses to remain anonymous, as is the case with a wealthy man from the East Bay who became a patron of St. Peter School in the Mission District after reading school newsletters that his housekeeper, whose son attended St. Peter, had brought to his house.
He visited the school and inspected it with a skeptical eye.
“He stayed until 6:15,” St. Peter Principal Vicki Butler said. “He saw the children, the curriculum. He saw the finances. When he finished he said, ‘I will do everything in my power to help your school. My concern is that your kids get this wonderful, supportive Catholic education and they’re too poor to pay for their high school.”’
The donor eventually created a scholarship fund for St. Peter graduates to attend Catholic high schools. The fund supports more than 50 students a year.
“Out of that group, we’ve had students who have gone on to become, doctors, lawyers, teachers,” said St. Peter Assistant Principal Sister Marian Rose Power, RSM. “It’s enabled them to move out of the inner city and into professions.”
From January 29, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.