Christian education boom continues around the country

Christian schools across the country are seeing tremendous growth in enrollment, as parents and students seek educational opportunities that combine academic, athletic and social offerings in environments that are also focused on spiritual and moral growth. 

Spurred by dissatisfaction with public school curriculum, pandemic-related restrictions and continued remote learning, families are seeking Christian education in record numbers. 

Last fall the New York Times reported that the median member school in the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), one of the country’s largest networks of evangelical schools, grew its K-12 enrollment by 12% between 2019-20 and 2020-21. The Association of Classical Christian Schools, another conservative network, expanded from an estimated 50,500 students in the 2018-19 school year to about 59,200 students this year. 

The rapid growth in student numbers brings both opportunities and challenges for schools. Those that were already holding classes in limited or even borrowed spaces now find themselves needing to expand to meet student needs.

Two years ago at Lanier Christian Academy in Flowery Branch, Georgia, officials were projecting modest growth – hoping to reach 350 students. Today, the school has an enrollment of 470 and is projecting 550 students by next fall. 

Lanier does not have its own building – the school is currently renting from a local church and relies on modular buildings for extra space.  

“We’re just going as fast as we can, and we’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand for the school’s growth,” David Roberts, director of institutional advancement, told the Gainesville Times

The school is implementing a long-term growth plan that will include constructing academic buildings, a gym, an arts center/chapel, a multipurpose building and a football-soccer field on 36 acres. Eventually, the new campus will accommodate as many as 1,200 students. 

“Now, we have a campus that’s right next to where we’re renting, and we’re able to kind of slowly grow from where we are to where we’re going to be,” Roberts said.

Finding itself in a similar situation, Lakeway Christian Schools in Sullivan County, Tennessee, plans a new 75-acre campus to serve northeast Tennessee and southeast Virginia. Head of school Britt Stone told local media the school’s enrollment has more than doubled since May 2020.

“We had 63 students on the waiting list for this school year and had nowhere to put them,” Stone said. “All of our grade levels except for three were at max capacity this school year.” 

Other religious school groups, including Catholic and Lutheran schools, are seeing similar trends. 

The National Catholic Educational Association reports that enrollment in U.S. Catholic schools increased by 62,000 students – 3.8% – from fall 2020 to fall 2021. That is the highest one-year increase the organization has recorded, and the first enrollment increase in two decades.

Lanier’s Roberts attributes the boom in enrollment to population growth in his area, along with dissatisfaction with public schools’ restrictions and switch to online learning.

“I can’t tell you which one of those factors weighs in the most, but I think they all matter,” he said.