Story by Mary Morrell | Correspondent
“Catholic schools transform lives,” Bishop George V. Murry, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, said during a January meeting in Washington with Catholic school educators to ensure the viability of vibrant Catholic schools.
One of the underlying concerns discussed at the meeting was rising tuition costs, which among other approaches, requires school leaders and clergy “to be courageous and undaunted in going to donors, people whose lives have been positively affected by Catholic schools and have been blessed with economic security ... and ask them to give back to Catholic schools,” Bishop Murry said.
In the Diocese of Trenton, donors are recognized as providing the generous financial foundation for the Diocesan Tuition Assistance Program and the many school tuition assistance programs that are benefitting students, families and their Catholic schools.
In St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, donors are the backbone of the very successful St. Jerome Tuition Assistance Fund, for which donations during the period of June 2017 to June 2018 surpassed $78,000, said Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, principal.
“Tuition assistance plays a very important role in our Catholic schools,” Sister Angelina said. “It empowers families who never believed their children could obtain a quality Catholic education, and it benefits the school by increasing enrollment and bringing families to the school who are deeply rooted in our Catholic faith.”
The first step in the assistance process, noted Sister Angelina, is the family’s application through the FACTS Grant and Aid Assessment, the third-party provider for the diocesan tuition assistance program.
“FACTS assesses the family need and then provides us with a report. Then we meet with the parent to tell them how much money the St. Jerome Tuition Assistance Fund can provide. The parent must agree to pay the balance,” she said. “We believe our model works well as it is built on the premise of pairing donors and specific children. We believe the donor then has a more vested interest. The response has been wonderful, but of course, each year, it becomes more and more difficult to raise funds as the need increases,” Sister Angelina stressed.
Importance of Donors
For Sister Jude Boyce, who has spent 35 years as a principal, 14 of them in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Asbury Park, tuition assistance has proven valuable not only as financial relief for families, but for the viability of the schools, as well.
“I have been principal of four schools, three of which needed to increase enrollment,” said Sister Jude. A tuition assistance program at each school was responsible for the increase in enrollment, including in Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, where enrollment increased from 124 students in September 2004 to 196 students in June 2018.
Sister Jude, who left as principal to take on the role of director of development for the new school year, explained the process at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, noting, “If people don’t understand that this process works, they might be reluctant to try.”
Every family requesting help with tuition must apply for diocesan assistance through the FACTS program, said Sister Jude, explaining that once the assessment report is in from FACTS, the tuition is set according to the school’s policy and based on the family’s income.
In addition, said Sister Jude, “Our tuition is a family tuition, which means whether the family has one child or more, they pay the same tuition.” This kind of assistance benefits the school on several levels, she said. “Once a school has accepted all the students who are able to pay full tuition and the school still has 25 empty desks [or more] spread over the school, then accepting students at a lower rate is only a win-win situation. This results in more students benefitting from Catholic education, more money in the school accounts, and enrollment increases,” she explained.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel also has an Adopt-a-Student program made possible by benefactors. Recipients of Adopt-A-Student scholarships have significant financial need. Often, these are hardworking single-parent families and grandparents who are legal guardians, trying to provide an education in the tradition and environment of Catholic schools. Benefactors receive letters, cards and progress notes from their adopted student, and events are held in Our Lady Mount Carmel for benefactors to meet their student.
Options for Families
St. Mary of the Lakes School, Medford, has a number of tuition assistance options available to families in addition to the aid available from the Diocese, said Cathy Bjorklund, director of admissions and advancement, who explained the options.
In an effort to promote Catholic education and maintain healthy enrollment, the school offers a transfer grant to new families. The grant is available to students in grades one to seven who transfer to the school (excluding transfers from other local Catholic schools) in the amount of $1,500 per student toward their tuition for year one and $1,000 toward their tuition for year two.
The Medford school also offers a military grant, funded by a private donor and available to students who have one or more active military parents. These grants are $1,000 per year per student in Pre-K to eighth grade based on full-time enrollment. Prorated grants are also available for part-time Pre-K students.
“The Tuition Transfer Grant has been very well-received and has also caused some families to consider multiple students when they may have originally only thought of enrolling one child,” Bjorklund said. “The Tuition Assistance Fund has helped families who may not qualify for standard financial aid based on IRS figures, but have come upon difficult times such as an illness, job loss, etc. The Military Grant has been very successful in attracting military families who, while they may be transient, appreciate the consistency of Catholic education wherever they may be located.”
Those families who have questions about the availability of tuition assistance at their school are encouraged to inquire in their school office.