Students who graduate from Catholic high schools, such as Catholic Memorial in Waukesha, are usually ahead of their peers when they enter college. (Submitted photo)
The barrage of headlines citing low test scores, declining graduation rates, drugs, bullying and fighting are often disheartening for parents of prospective high school students. But, for the students who attend the 16 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the future is bright. Their parents have chosen to put them in these schools to provide them with a solid Catholic education, strong moral center, feeling of personal worth, character, integrity, compassion and caring for others.
Catholic students in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee also mirror the success throughout the country for high school students attending Catholic Schools as they seamlessly transition to college, said Catholic Memorial High School President Donna Bembenek.
“This investment translates into saving money in college in multiple ways,” she said. “One key way is that our Catholic school kids are earning more than three times as much in scholarships and using them. Some students get scholarships from multiple schools and turn some down, but last year, our 150 graduating seniors earned $18.9 million in scholarships and credits.”
Additionally, Catholic high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) classes that provide college credits in high school. Many students begin college as sophomores due to the credits earned in high school.
“Catholic high school graduates complete their bachelor’s degree in 4.3 years because they are better prepared to handle the rigor, earn more in college credits and college scholarships, and report that college transition was seamless. And the transition to their careers happens two years earlier than the national average,” Bembenek said. “In contrast, the national average for public school graduates is six years to complete a bachelor’s degree.”
Bembenek cited an Archdiocese-commissioned research study on Catholic high schools that found the ability to handle the rigor of classes is a large portion of their success.
In the national study, https://whattobecome.com/blog/college-dropout-rate/, 30 percent of college students drop out after their first year.
“They are not prepared for the rigors of college,” Bembenek said. “Catholic high school kids are set apart as they are well prepared and understand the rigors of writing skills, critical thinking, and their Catholic faith plays a huge role in this. College is the first time a lot of kids are venturing out without their parents or teachers. They have to have the moral compass to stand up for what they believe in (and) make the emotional transition to college. Catholic schools prepare kids for success in academic, faith, social and emotional well-being.”
When Tom McInerny (Class of 2003) came to Catholic Memorial High School, he admits he was not a good student.
“I had a 2.7 GPA and went to tutoring and worked hard to get my grades up,” he said. “Because of my hard work, college was a piece of cake, and I ended up graduating from Loras Catholic College in Dubuque with a 3.4 GPA and graduated in four years.”
McInerny graduated with his bachelor’s in business management and won the senior class business award. He currently works at R and R Insurance in commercial insurance and consulting.
“My parents always talked about the investment of Catholic education, and they were right,” he said. “I had a job the day I graduated college, and I am very grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to put the three of us through Catholic education.”
McInerny said he understands some parents hesitate due to the cost associated with Catholic education, but he said you couldn’t put a price on surrounding kids with like-minded individuals.
“Parents are not only paying for Catholic education, but a support system among parents and school friends,” he said. “Most will make lifelong friends through Catholic schools. My wife and I plan to send our girls to St. Anthony on the Lake for elementary school and hopefully Catholic Memorial when they are older.”
Dr. Christopher Baggott graduated from CMH in 2004 and was a product of Catholic grade school education. One reason he chose to work at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison is because his great aunt was a Sister of Saint Mary (SSM).
Baggott was the third in his family to attend CMH and was accepted to UW-Madison for undergraduate studies with conditional acceptance to the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.
“The conditions of this conditional acceptance were academic success and a good score on the MCAT examination. In addition to this conditional acceptance to medical school, I graduated from Catholic Memorial with an enormous number of academic credits that counted toward my undergraduate degree. With all those credits, I thought it reasonable to enter medical school ahead of schedule after two years of college,” he said. “After meeting with the Dean of Admission for the Medical School, I was able to gain her support. The only remaining obstacle was the MCAT. After my first semester of college, I ended up taking the MCAT, with only one University of Wisconsin science course under my belt. I achieved a very nice score on the test, which can be attributed entirely to my education at CMH. This allowed me to enter medical school at age 20 after two years of college.”
Thanks to some scholarships, Baggott cut his college costs in half and then dropped that cost in half by graduating in two years. Financially, he was far ahead of his peers by age 20.