Things are reaching a feverish pitch at St. Thomas as the school goes all out for Round-Up, the annual bid to raise money for student financial assistance. Last year, the school sold $325,000+ worth of raffle tickets. I will be thoroughly impressed if the students best this figure given the stagnant economy, but every time I count the boys out, they somehow manage to pull off the miracle. Round-Up is the beating heart, nay the very soul of this school community, for without this money, a St. Thomas education might not be possible for a full third of our student body. Catholic school doesn’t come cheap. Tuition continues to rise year after year. Personally, I am very conflicted about this phenomenon.
On the one hand, I see the necessity of tuition increases to cover the rising costs of competitive faculty salaries and benefits, as well as the various expenses of running a 21st century high school. However, I can hardly be an impartial judge on the matter for my wife and two daughters depend on my income to pay the bills and put food on the table. I also know that many of my colleagues might leave St. Thomas for the public school system if their wages at St. Thomas were disproportionately low compared to those of their peers in the public sector.
On the other hand, I really worry that in the very near future Round-Up just won’t be enough to help those in need. As tuition goes over the $11,000 barrier, how many students from lower socio-economic families will be able to attend my beloved alma mater? Heck, with my own growing family, I am beginning to doubt that I will be able to even send my own children to Catholic school in the future. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy, if a Catholic educator could not afford to send his or her own children to Catholic schools?
What is the tipping point? When will our school, and others like it, become the exclusive province of the rich and elite of American society instead of serving the larger Catholic community? When will tuition increases compromise the Catholic identity and mission of the school? When does the strain become too much for even the most committed Catholic parents to handle? When? Soon.
I love Round-Up and hope that any student who wants to attend St. Thomas will be able to do so. However, I need a decent income to provide for my family, too. How does a Catholic educator wrestle with the fact that a just wage may ultimately force a sea change in Catholic education and jeopardize the very thing that he loves? I don’t know, but there must be a solution in God’s providential design. To be continued…