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Online School Builds Catholic Education While Trimming Tuition

March 8, 2012 - 6:00pm

The nation's first fully accredited online Catholic school is growing in Coral Springs.

Catholic Schools K12 Virtual at St. Andrew's School is attracting students from 19 states, Belize, Venezuela and even China with low tuition costs, wide course offerings and student-teacher ratios that few brick-and-mortar campuses can match.

Faced with thin operating margins and losing enrollment, Catholic schools have been closing across the country.

At the same time, non-Catholic families concerned about the quality of public schools have been seeking affordable private-education alternatives.

These trends -- alongside advances in online capabilities -- led to the establishment of CSK12, said Lisa Shelly, director of operations and a member of the local parish's finance committee.

"It's so exciting to have ability to offer classes regardless of the number of students -- with the same array as bigger schools," she said.

With an annual full-time tuition rate of $2,495, compared with $3,500-$9,500 for traditional Catholic schools, CSK12 is a virtual bargain.

Not surprisingly, Shelly says, "the growth curve is good for both Catholic and non-Catholic" enrollment. Less than two years after receiving full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, CSK12 has more than 2,000 students taking full course loads.

"This is too good to keep to ourselves, and we started rolling it out nationwide," Shelly told Sunshine State News.

One of the biggest benefits to both Catholics and non-Catholics is how CSK12 supplements smaller schools.

"We support schools that have just two or three kids taking AP physics, as well as home-schoolers," Shelly noted. "We can offer Latin in a cost-effective manner."

The schools website lists multiple ways the virtual school can assist professional educators at traditional schools:

  • Enrichment programs and advanced academics for gifted or talented students.
  • Summer courses.
  • Credit recovery.
  • After-school or before-school programs.
  • Courses for children with special needs
  • Families who cannot travel to a Catholic school.

Like the larger, pioneering Florida Virtual School, CSK12 blends interactive technology to achieve economies of scale and fulfill market-driven demand. Instructors -- most of whom teach at other schools or colleges -- are added as the need arises, Shelly said.

Since its inception, CSK12 has quadrupled its summer session enrollment.

"We can offer more classes at reduced costs," said Shelly, noting that CSK12's $2,495 tuition for a six-course load includes all learning materials.

Hybrid students -- those attending both CSK12 and their local schools -- are charged an a la carte rate of $245 for a semester course and $425 for a full-year class.

An example of curricular cooperation is St. Joseph School in Victoria, Texas, which could not afford to offer an advanced placement calculus for just two students. So those St. Joseph students are blended into an online course with CSK12 pupils across the country.

Student-teacher ratios are no more than 25-1, and students can interact via Skype and "white board chats" in real time, Shelly said.

Recounting the brief history of CSK12, the Catholic Reporter said St. Andrews pastor, Father George Puthusseril, asked parishioner Trina Trimm -- a native of Northern Ireland with a background in parochial and public education who was running the digital high school project at the University of Miami -- to set up the virtual school at St. Andrew's.

Though the project was conceived with home-schoolers in mind, Catholic schools still provide the lion's share of CSK12 students.

Religion classes are required of full-time students who are Catholic. And Latin instruction -- a field of study that's dead or dying at most brick-and-mortar institutions -- is available to all.

Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Miami, CSK12 is starting to issue its first high school diplomas. Recent graduates have gone on to Barry University, St. Thomas University and the New York Culinary Institute.

"Online education has been done on the collegiate level for years -- this equips lower-grade students better when they get there," Shelly said.

Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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