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The Latest Statistics on Seminary Enrollment from CARA

The latest statistics from CARA show that U.S. Catholic theological seminaries enrolled 101 more students this year than last year.

The figure rose from 3,483 in the 2000-01 academic year to 3,584 in 2001-02. It marked the fifth straight year of increases and the highest theology-level enrollment since 1992-93.

The following reflects the positive and negative growth patterns in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and lay ministry leadership:

-- College seminary enrollment was down slightly, from 1,647 last year to 1,594 this year.

-- High school seminary enrollment increased slightly, from 787 last year to 816 this year.

-- Deacon formation programs nationwide had 2,641 candidates this year, 39 more than in 2000-01.

-- The number of students enrolled in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs dropped by more than 1,100, from 35,582 last year to 34,414 this year.

From 1967-68, until 1997-98, theology enrollments declined almost every year. They went from a high of 8,159 in the first year of that period to a low of 3,114 in 1997-98.

This year's figures represent an increase of 470, or 15 percent, over a four-year period.

The increase is not quite as large, however, if the pre-theology students are excluded from the theology enrollment figures. Pre-theology refers the year or two of academic formation given to college graduates who were not previously in the seminary and who lack some of the academic prerequisites for taking up graduate-level theological studies.

Almost nonexistent in the 1960s, pre-theology accounted for 4 percent of postgraduate seminary enrollment in 1980-81, 8 percent in 1990-91, and 20 percent in 2000-01 and 2001-02.

Of the 3,114 seminarians listed as postgraduate in studies in 1997-98, 536 were in pre-theology, leaving 2,578 in actual theology studies. In the current academic year, 725 were enrolled in pre-theology, leaving 2,859 in actual theology studies, for a four-year increase of 281, or 11 percent.

Of the 3,584 postgraduate seminarians, students for diocesan priesthood accounted for 2,621, or 73 percent. The other 963 were preparing to become priests in religious orders.

Since 1996-97, when CARA began annually tracking formation programs for permanent deacons, the number of candidates in such programs rose from 2,183 to 2,641 for a five-year increase of 458, or 21 percent.

When the U.S. bishops did a national study of lay ministry formation programs in 1985-86, they found 10,500 people enrolled in such programs. By 1994-95, the number had more than doubled to 21,800. It crossed the 30,000 mark just five years later with 31,168.

The CARA studies conducted since 1994-95 have counted enrollments only in programs at least two years in length that offer a degree or certificate for lay ministry.

Last year the enrollment figure rose to 35,582, and in the current academic year it dropped slightly to 34,414.