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Outward focus fueling growth at universities

AT SOME CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITIES setting enrollment records, students from outside churches of Christ represent an increasing presence.

By Bobby Ross Jr.
The Christian Chronicle

November 1, 2005

Before enrolling at Rochester Collegein Rochester Hills, Mich., Calvin Moore chatted online withadmissions counselors. He asked about academic offerings and mentioned hisdesire to double-major in history education and Christian ministry.

But he said it neveroccurred to him to inquire about Rochester’sassociation with churches of Christ.

“It was kind of, ‘Areyou Christian? I’m Christian, too. And I’ll see you in the fall,’” said Moore,who was surprised to find the school doesn’t use instrumental music in dailychapel services.

Fueled in part byaggressive marketing to the wider evangelical community, Rochester enrolled a school-record 1,075students this fall.

Likewise, Lubbock Christian University in Texasand Ohio Valley University in Vienna,W.V., both report all-time high enrollments, even as their church of Christratios decline.

And the number ofstudents from outside churches of Christ is on the rise at Abilene ChristianUniversity in Texas,Faulkner Universityin Montgomery, Ala.,and Lipscomb Universityin Nashville, Tenn., a survey by the Chronicle found.

It’s a trend thatRochester President Michael Westerfield said makes sense in an age when manyyoung people choose to be identified solely as “Christians” and not with anyparticular fellowship.

“In terms of the spiritof the Restoration Movement, expanding enrollment outside the church of Christconstituency is a fulfillment of that vision,” Westerfield said.

A mix of faithtraditions can be found at most American universities affiliated with aparticular denomination, said Robert Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

“Most denominationalleaders understand that a quality campus must draw from a wider market,”Andringa said. “Even the Southern Baptists, with 16 million members, havecampuses with only 50 percent to 60 percent Baptist students.”


Rochester student Moore said he has learned a lot in a short timeabout why most churches of Christ do not use instruments.

“A lot of people comefrom a biblical standpoint of how the New Testament didn’t use music,” saidMoore, who describes himself as “more non-denominational, Baptist-leaning.” Buthe said he has learned to “agree to disagree.”

At Ohio Valley,which has a record 563 students, the percentage of students from outsidechurches of Christ has jumped to 44 percent — up from 40 percent in 2000.

“Because of ourmission, ‘to transform lives,’ we welcome all students to the university sothat we can help them with the ultimate transformation in life, being a childof God,” said Becky Mathis-Stump, senior vice president for enrollment.

Bethany Kordella, aLutheran, said she chose Ohio Valley because of itsrelatively small size and friendly people.

“The only thingthat’s really seemed to make a difference is just people asking me whatLutherans do that’s different from the church of Christ,”the 19-year-old psychology major said. “They sometimes seem very amazed.”

At Lubbock Christian,enrollment topped 2,000 this fall — a 65 percent increase from 1,124 in 1996.Much of that growth stems from community-based degree-completion and graduateprograms and undergraduates from outside churches of Christ. Less than half ofstudents are church of Christ members.

“LCU strives toremember its heritage as a Christian university by recruiting in churches,Christian schools and church-related summer camps,” said Mondy R. Brewer,assistant vice president for enrollment management. “We are finding that all ofthese organizations are more diverse, which in turn helps to make ouruniversity population more diverse.”

He added: “We arealso finding that more people of many different backgrounds are looking for aneducation like the one LCU has to offer.”

A similar phenomenonhas marked growth at Faulkner, whose 2,641 students include about one-fourthtraditional undergraduate students.

“Faulkner Universityrequires Bible classes for all students each semester, which provides a naturaloutreach opportunity,” spokeswoman Leigh Brannan said.

Abilene Christianenrolled 4,703 students this fall, its third-highest total ever. The Internethas helped expose more students from outside churches of Christ to AbileneChristian and other Christian universities, said Robert Heil, director ofadmissions and enrollment management.

“Although themajority of students attending ACU are drawn from churches of Christ, ACU isincreasingly attractive to students from other faith traditions because of ouracademic quality and distinctive programs,” Heil said.

Similarly, Lipscombhas focused more on recruiting “students who are seeking a top-quality academicexperience in a Christian university regardless of their religious background,”said Ricky Holaway, director of admissions.

The percentage ofLipscomb’s 2,518 students who listed “Church of Christ”as their religious preference dropped to 61 percent this fall, down from 64percent a year ago, Holaway said.

In a twist, Pepperdine Universityin Malibu, Calif., has long marketed itself to adiverse student body. But in recent years, it has actively recruited church of Christ students, pushing theirrepresentation to 20 percent of undergraduates, said Paul Long, dean ofadmission.


On the other hand, Harding Universityin Searcy, Ark.,Freed-Hardeman Universityin Henderson, Tenn.,and Oklahoma ChristianUniversity in Oklahoma City all said their percentages of church of Christstudents remain steady. Still, all three set enrollment records this fall.

Enrollment has nearlydoubled at Harding in the past 18 years, hitting 5,975. Freed-Hardeman andOklahoma Christian both topped 2,000 for the first time.

Harding is committedto keeping its student body at between 85 percent and 90 percent members ofchurches of Christ, said Glenn Dillard, assistant vice president for enrollmentmanagement.

But Dillard added,“Even though Harding has done very little to market the university beyondmembers of the churches of Christ, Harding’s emphasis on academic quality hascaused many home-schooled students as well as academically superior studentsfrom across the country looking for a faith-based university to inquire aboutattending.”

Church of Christ members represent about 90 percent of undergraduates atFreed-Hardeman, said Wayne Scott, vice president for enrollment management.“This continues to be a positive for us,” Scott said.

About 80 percent ofOklahoma Christian undergraduates are church of Christmembers — a figure relatively unchanged for four years, said Risa Forrester,enrollment and marketing director.

“The additional 20percent are generally student families looking for a safe, quality Christianand academic environment,” Forrester said.

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