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Cristo Rey Schools: A Model of 21st-Century Catholic Education

December 21, 2017

Since the mid-1960s Catholic high schools in the United States have been separating along different paths based upon their prospects for survival.

From the study's introduction: 

The pressures of rising labor costs, shifting demographics and a failing business model have created a distinct alignment consisting of schools serving top and bottom tiers and those catering to a shrinking middle class.

Catholic high schools for upper income students, with tuitions often exceeding $20,000 per year, enrollments above 1,000 students and supportive alumni, are holding steady. A middle class of smaller high schools, with enrollments in the low to mid hundreds, serving blue-collar families on tuition-sensitive budgets, is being squeezed. 

Cristo Rey schools are returning Catholic education to urban areas. In its unique model, students receive a college-preparatory education and participate in a work-study program in which they learn employable skills and earn money to help pay for their tuition. Since the first Cristo Rey school was founded in Chicago in 1996, 31 others have opened in 21 states and the District of Columbia, including in Boston and Lawrence, MA, with plans to add eight more by 2020. Total enrollment is over 11,500 students and more than 13,000 have graduated.

This paper will examine Cristo Rey schools, why they work, how they work and what parts of their education/business design can be successfully transferred to other Catholic high schools. It will look at the Cristo Rey Network, a cooperative organization formed to standardize the Cristo Rey approach, offer resources to the individual schools and help promote the spread of Cristo Rey schools to cities that can support them. 
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