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Despite the financial and instructional challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, five universities associated with Churches of Christ celebrated record enrollments this fall.
Headcounts hit all-time highs at York College in Nebraska; Rochester University in Rochester Hills, Mich.; Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.; Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.; and Abilene Christian University in Texas.
Those numbers encompassed traditional residential students as well as part-time students, online programs and satellite campuses.
Enrollment jumped 26 percent at York, hitting 640, the largest increase of any Christian higher education institution surveyed by The Christian Chronicle. That’s up from 508 a year ago.
Despite daily temperature checks, mask etiquette and new social distance norms, the atmosphere remains upbeat on campus, York officials said, attributing the growth to “multiple partners doing outstanding work — admissions office, coaches, business office, and student development.”
“We can face this year with boldness because the same amazing God who spoke the universe into existence is actively at work in and through us at York College,” York’s first-year president, Sam Smith, said in a news release.
While one-third of York’s students are enrolled in online programs, the Nebraska college also saw a rise in on-campus enrollment — one of four institutions surveyed to do so.
At Rochester University, total headcount including non-traditional programs reached a record 1,230, up 13 percent from 1,087. Traditional on-campus enrollment hit 655, up 10 percent from 595.
“I am pleased to report that RU has apparently bucked a national enrollment trend for decreases in college enrollment,” President Brian Stogner said in a statement. “I am thankful to the entire RU campus community for its hard work in ensuring a quality educational environment in the midst of these uncertain times.”
Freed-Hardeman also posted total headcount and on-campus enrollment increases. The record headcount of 2,188 marked a 3 percent increase over last fall’s 2,117. The on-campus number rose to 1,727, up 5 percent from 1,648.
“Most of all, we are thankful to God who blesses again and again,” Freed-Hardeman President David Shannon said in a statement. “We pray that we will honor him and that those blessings will continue to advance the noble mission of Freed-Hardeman.”
FHU has two satellite campuses, one in Memphis, Tenn., for graduate education and another in Dickson, Tenn., for nursing.
According to a news release, Lipscomb’s enrollment of 4,729 students after the first week of classes this fall exceeded the previous record set in fall 2015 with 4,686 students. Lipscomb did not announce its enrollment for on-campus programs.
“This enrollment record reflects the thriving nature of Lipscomb University even in the unique season we have been in … in the midst of a pandemic,” Lipscomb President Randy Lowry said in the release.
ACU topped last year’s record headcount of 5,292 with an increase of one student to 5,293. However, ACU’s main campus enrollment was 3,675, down 6 percent from 3,913 last fall.
Abilene Christian’s branch campus, ACU Dallas, is home to the university’s 15 undergraduate and 19 graduate online degree programs. Dallas enrollment increased 17 percent over last year.
“With predictions that 15-20 percent of college-bound students might choose not to enroll due to the pandemic, we’re especially pleased to see our total enrollment continue to climb,” ACU President Phil Schubert said in a statement. “This represents significant effort on the part of faculty and staff who continue to adjust to a rapidly changing environment.”
Crowley’s Ridge College in Paragould, Ark. — the smallest of the institutions responding to the Chronicle survey — also reported an increase. Overall enrollment rose to 192, up from 187 a year ago. On-campus headcount hit 166, up from 158.
“I am very proud of CRC’s enrollment increase this fall, especially given the challenges that COVID-19 has presented since spring break,” President Richard Johnson said.
Total headcount includes all students — full and part-time, graduate and undergraduate, on-campus, online and in satellite campuses.
Enrollment in on-campus degree programs dropped at several institutions.
Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., with four satellite campuses that are home to graduate programs in education, psychology and business, was the only institution to shift entirely to online instruction, as mandated by the state of California.
Pepperdine’s overall headcount increased to 9,564, up 9 percent from 8,768. However, enrollment in on-campus programs decreased to 7,189, down 2 percent from 7,339.
Amid the difficulty of COVID-19, Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, Lubbock Christian University in Texas and Harding University in Searcy, Ark., all experienced declines in total headcount and on-campus enrollment. Florida College in Temple Terrace, Fla., which has no satellite campuses or online programs, also reported a decrease in enrollment.
Still, those universities’ leaders looked for bright spots — such as the record retention (86.7 percent) and graduation (71.5) rates achieved by Harding.
“As we all work together to mitigate the spread and effects of COVID-19 on our campuses and across the country, Harding is seeking new ways to grow in this difficult environment,” Provost Marty Spears said in a news release.
Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., and Lipscomb tabulate official numbers later in the semester. Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., and Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, did not respond to the Chronicle’s survey.
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