After the Governments of China and India, the Catholic Church is one of the largest providers of education globally. Trends in enrollment in Catholic schools and universities at the country, regional, and global levels can be documented based on the annual statistical yearbooks of the Church. Data on a wide range of Church activities are collected. The latest available edition (2020) provides data for 2018.
For K12 education, the yearbook provides for each country and some territories the number of the schools managed by the Church at three levels (preschools, primary schools, and secondary schools) and the number of students enrolled in those schools. In addition, the yearbook provides statistics on the number of students enrolled in post-secondary education under three categories: (1) Catholic Higher Institutes (post-secondary institutions not classified as universities); (2) ecclesiastical studies in Catholic universities; and (3) other types of studies in Catholic universities. This page provides estimates of enrollment and links to publications available on this website that document enrollment trends and other stylized facts about Catholic education.
This page provides analysis on enrollment trends in Catholic schools and universities based on estimates from the annual statistical yearbooks of the Church. You will find below: (1) a selection of our publications related to enrollment trends; (2) a brief explanation on data collection methods for the statistical yearbooks and how to access data on this website; (3) a few stylized facts on enrollment trends for pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools; and (4) a few stylized facts on enrollment trends for post-secondary education. If you have questions or suggestions, please contact us.
Publications on Enrollment Trends
Enrollment trends are discussed in the Global Catholic Education Report published annually (the 2020 report is available; the 2021 report will be released soon) as well as in some of our Knowledge Notes which provide more detailed statistical analysis:
Data Collection and Access to Data
Data for the statistical yearbooks of the Church are collected through a questionnaire sent to the chancery offices of ecclesiastical jurisdictions worldwide. The data are self-reported and may not always be fully accurate, especially in contexts where local conditions are not favorable to data collection. In addition, not all ecclesiastical jurisdictions are able to fill the questionnaire every year. Each year a small number of the more than 3,000 jurisdictions that should fill the questionnaire are not able to do it. Yet these jurisdictions tend to be small, so that the missing data should not affect the validity of the data substantially for most countries and at the regional and global levels.
Several products based on the statistical yearbooks data are available on this website. Country-level profiles of K12 enrollment trends up to 2017 are available on our data page. These profiles will be updated to 2018 for the release of the Global Catholic Education Report 2021. An electronic file providing statistical yearbook data on enrollment at the country, regional, and global level for 2018 is again available on our data page. We are planning to provide soon a data visualization tool to facilitate use of these data.
Pre-primary, Primary, and Secondary Education
Globally, the Catholic Church estimates that 35.0 million children were enrolled in Catholic primary schools in 2018, with 19.3 million children enrolled in Catholic secondary schools and 7.4 million children enrolled at the preschool level. Below are a few highlights:
Enrollment in K12 education more than doubled between 1975 and 2018 globally, from 29.1 million to 61.7 million students. Most of the growth was concentrated in Africa, and within that region, in sub-Saharan Africa. This is not surprising, given that the continent has a high rate of population growth. In addition, thanks to efforts to achieve education for all, enrollment rates have risen substantially over time.
The highest growth rates are also observed for Africa, but growth rates are also high in Asia and Oceania. In Africa, the annual growth rates in enrollment are estimated at 7.5 percent for preschools, 3.8 percent for primary schools, 5.7 percent for secondary schools, and 4.3 percent for total enrollment in K12 Catholic schools. These growth rates are two to three times larger than those observed globally. In the Americas and Europe, growth rates tend to be much smaller, and in some cases are negative.
There are substantial differences between regions in the share of students enrolled by level. Globally, primary schools account for 56.7 percent of K12 enrollment in Catholic schools in 2018, versus 31.3 percent for secondary schools, and 12.0 percent for preschools. In Africa however, primary schools account for 71.3 percent of total enrollment, while in Europe, they account for only 36.0 percent of K12 enrollment.
India has the largest enrollment in K12 Catholic schools, followed by four low income sub-Saharan African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi. Together, the top 15 countries in terms of enrollment size account for about two thirds of global enrollment in K12 Catholic schools.
- The highest growth rate in enrolment over the last four decades is observed for preschools. This is good news given that early childhood is a critical period in the life of children and that investments in early childhood tend to have high returns.
The Church estimates that it provided post-secondary education to 6.5 million students globally in 2018. This includes 2.3 million students in non-university higher institutes, 0.5 million students in ecclesiastical studies at the university level, and 3.7 million students in other types of university studies. Below are a few highlights:
Enrollment in Catholic higher education more than doubled globally between 1975 and 2018, from 2.5 million students to 6.5 million. While for K12 education most of the growth in absolute terms was in Africa, for tertiary education most of the growth took place in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. However, in proportionate terms, the highest growth rates in enrollment are observed in Africa, although from low base.
Globally, students in universities account for most of the enrollment. Yet in India and thereby in Asia, there are more students enrolled in higher institutes. Globally, the shares of students enrolled in higher institutes and universities did not fundamentally change over the last four decades despite ups and downs. But among university students, there has been a rise in the share of students enrolled in ecclesiastical studies especially in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. This is good news for the Church.
Together, the top 15 countries in terms of total enrollment account for four fifths of global enrollment. Enrollment remains concentrated in high and middle income countries. The country with the largest enrollment is the United States, followed by three large middle income countries: India, the Philippines, and Brazil. Italy is next.