The State of Our Personal Catholic Higher Education Bubble


I am in a high state of agitation as I write this, because unless she is able to take off a year to work and then return to school with the same scholarship status, our daughter will have to leave a Catholic institution of higher learning after a straight-A freshman year.

It was a calculated risk, true. We read the Cardinal Newman Society Guide (I ripped it apart tonight; it is of little use to us now), and encouraged our older two children to apply to the colleges listed, as well as other state and private institutions. Both wisely decided to stay in our state, to save money on travel (and they love their baby brother!).

Our oldest decided to accept a generous scholarship at a non-Catholic college; our second could find her desired field in many state schools, but in only one of the local Catholic colleges was it even somewhat affordable. After prayer and calculation of the variables, she decided on the Catholic one, and had a very good year. Unfortunately, the variables changed just enough that her debt load upon graduation would have been well over $60,000.

Sure, we could help more. I could go to work and put our younger children in school (although not our local parish school at almost $6000/yr per child). We could take out a private loan and put our family in debt beyond our mortgage to help cover this year, and hope that she would become an RA next year—one of those darn variables again—but there is no guarantee of the RA position and we are frankly not going to put our family in that financial position. We will not stop homeschooling for this. At this point, we are shouting, “Chicken!” We blink! We lose!

She is very disappointed, and I am—well, I am torqued. Staying at home, large family, tithing, homeschooling, the sacrifice of Catholic high school, carpooling—I am here to tell you that these advantages plus reading the Newman Society Guide from cover to cover will not guarantee your child a chance of coming out of a faithful Catholic college to marry and start a family or pursue a religious vocation or the priesthood without a prohibitive debt load.

Furthermore, if Grandpa is generous and sets up accounts for each child in the family, enough to maybe pay for one year’s worth of room and board, the schools count that entire amount when they look at your assets to determine what you can pay for that single college-bound child. (However, our eldest children don’t want to touch a DIME of baby brother’s account—or any siblings’ in between!)

Okay, I admit, I am whining. I understand that life isn’t fair, and we are not entitled to anything. However, I am appalled on our children’s behalf. Jobs were plentiful in the mid to late ‘80’s, and I could easily pay for a large chunk of the room and board for my (non-Newman Guide) Catholic university. I think it was $4000 a year. Stunning.

Our family has learned our lesson: It is admirable to apply to faithful Catholic schools, but if the debt load will be triple or even quadruple the state school’s  — why encourage  them to impede their life with such a burden?  Better to attempt to equip them to love the Lord and the Church in all circumstances with no expectation that they will attend a school which will in any way support their efforts.

Finally, I have a convoluted thought — but let me know if it makes any sense, please. In the Middle Ages, or even fifty years ago, a fine Catholic university education was usually for either the very wealthy or the brilliant. An acceptable inequity! The rest of the Church militant did not strictly have that “need:” they had apprenticeships, farms, other employment, or the important vocation of raising a family or the religious life or priesthood; most had a “proper” place in the world. No earthly situation is “perfect,” but there was a certain “security” in one’s identity and societal relationships.

Now we have a twist: Catholic Higher Education is again affordable, really, only to the wealthy and the brilliant. However: the rest of us Church Militants are up in arms! A college degree is now “necessary” for most employment, especially if one wishes to earn a “living wage” so that the spouse can stay home and actually raise the children. Therefore, most young Catholics slog through the political correctness of state institutions, and many lose their faith in the process.  The farms are few, apprenticeships are bestowed by unions or the state, and many young adults do not commit to marriage until older, resulting in not so many children, and vocations are buried under student loan obligations. Security?  Heh — maybe at Chicago’s O’Hare, but certainly not in sure self-identity and satisfying societal relations!

Perhaps by the time our little guy is eighteen (sixteen years!), the higher education bubble — for ALL institutions of higher education — will have burst. Maybe we won’t really care, anyway. Perhaps we’ll own a farm and he will know how to cultivate and shrewdly market rare types of salad greens and fix his own electricity and plumbing. Maybe our daughter will have opened her own music school. One activity we don’t foresee is donating to our children’s Catholic alma maters.


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  • Jann

    Spot on, Dorothy.

    But I have another objection to add to your frustrations. My spouse worked for the Church, which meant we had no health insurance for 21 years. We also were married for 19 yrs before we could afford to buy our first home, having lived in near sub-standard, rental housing for much of our married life.

    We did without, clothed our 4 children in hand-me-downs, rarely went out…you get the picture. It’s how most everyone has to live in this tough economy. And we didn’t mind sacrificing for the Church. But when it came time to send our children to Catholic colleges, there was NO financial aid to children whose father had been in ministry (and hence had no money for college).

    It seemed as though we were faulted by Catholic higher ed for devoting our lives to working for and in the Church. (Oh, and the salaries in our area for laity in Church work were at a level that most had to have two parents working just to make ends meet. But like you, I home educated my children and am glad I did.)

    • guitarmom

      I believe that the cost of Catholic education, from Kindy through college, is an act of abject social injustice.

      While the “Social Justice” arm of the Church cries for higher taxes, those of us who sacrificied to raise large families on one salay are ignored. We are the ones who sacriced with the goal of passing the Faith on to our children. And yet I’ve never heard a “Social Justice” advocate, advocate for us — not once.

      Thank you for this article. I hear your frustration loud and clear. Our own children are all saddled with student debt from Catholic education. With my last now in college, I hope to be able to get a job just to help THEM pay off those debts.

      Of course, I’ll get no tax deduction for it, since the loans are in THEIR names. “Social Justice” advocates: Where’s the social justice in that? “Social Justice” advocates: Please start recognizing the needs of loyal Catholic families!

  • noelfitz

    Thanks for this very powerful article and replies.

    Perhaps it is easier to solve other people’s problems than one’s own, and in Ireland things differ so much from the US.

    A Catholic education does not guarantee a Catholic life, but a Catholic home is a better guarantee. It is unfair to burden yourself or your family with excessive expenses.

    We do our best for our children, but that does not mean we financially ruin them or anyone else.

    Do not worry too much, do what can be reasonably expected and with the great start they have had your children will all turn out a credit to you, themselves, their country and the Church.

  • Kathleen Woodman

    Yes, it’s extremely difficult for large families to give their children a Catholic higher education. Frustrating. Nevertheless, if your children attend a university with no Catholic affiliation, if they are part of a good Catholic Campus Ministry, that will greatly help to keep them on the straight and narrow of their faith journey. Fundamentally, too, I agree with noelfitz. Bottom line, the home is a very important factor in creating a good foundation for the children’s faith. You seem to have that covered.

  • Mary Kochan

    Two people have contacted me about this article and offered to share graphics that illustrate the college cost problem. Both of the them are well done, interesting, and informative. Here are the links.