Most enrollments rise above COVID concerns

Anabaptist institutions navigate pandemic challenges

Goshen College students attend a first-year Identity, Culture and Community class outdoors in August. The college has erected several tents around campus for holding classes outdoors as much as possible. — Brian Yoder Schlabach/Goshen College Goshen College students attend a first-year Identity, Culture and Community class outdoors in August. The college has erected several tents around campus for holding classes outdoors as much as possible. — Brian Yoder Schlabach/Goshen College

Most Mennonite colleges and universities overcame COVID-19 pandemic challenges to grow enrollments this fall.

An Oct. 1 joint release from Mennonite Church USA-affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries reported enrollment at many of the six institutions experienced gains for the 2020-21 year. Only Goshen and Hesston colleges saw overall declines.

Mennonite Brethren institutions are mixed, with Tabor College reporting increased numbers and Fresno Pacific University slightly down.

In Canada, enrollments are down at Canadian Mennonite University and up at Conrad Grebel University College.

Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary increased by 36%, growing from 112 to 152 students, the highest enrollment since 2010. Of the 128 ­students in graduate courses, 92 are enrolled in degree or certificate programs and 36 are guest students ­or auditors.

The student body represents 12 countries, but due to travel and student visa restrictions more than 20 international students are postponing enrollment until next year.

Bethel College incoming student numbers stayed up, and total enrollment increased. There are 151 first-time freshmen (compared to 155 last year), the second-largest class in 32 years, along with 30 transfer students.

Total enrollment is 469, up 2.8% from 456 last fall.

Bethel has 10 new international students, from Argentina, Chile, Czech Republic, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Tabor College new student enrollment of 237 includes 171 freshmen, the largest freshman class in Tabor history, representing a 34% increase in first-year students. The overall traditional head count enrollment is 504, a 1.8% increase.

“I attribute the success of the 2020 recruiting class to God and his wonderful provision, but also to the diligent work by recruiters, coaches, faculty, staff and our constituents,” said dean of enrollment Grant Myers.

The freshman class has 31 students from U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches. In May 2019, Tabor announced a new scholarship worth $112,000 over four years for a minimum of 30 students graduating in 2020 who attend MB churches.

“The significant increase in the number of students who attend MB churches is a result of effective scholarship programs, the hard work of our admissions recruiters and God’s favor,” said Rusty Allen, executive vice president for operations. “We could not be more excited to see how the increased number of students from MB churches will positively impact our campus culture.”

Bluffton University total enrollment grew from 719 to 726 students, with 195 students in the first-year class. Bluffton welcomed its largest Master of Business Administration cohort in three years. MBA classes are offered via Zoom.

The increase was bolstered by last year’s incoming class, the largest in six years, retaining at a 72% rate. Increases in transfer enrollment and Bluffton’s MBA program also helped account for gains. As expected, international enrollment was down. Bluffton welcomed two new international students from Japan and Thailand.

“These figures are excellent considering the many unexpected obstacles we have faced since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Robin Bowlus, vice president of advancement and enrollment management.

Eastern Mennonite University student numbers grew, with 1,449 undergraduate, graduate and seminary students, up from 1,424 in 2019. Eastern Mennonite Seminary represents 63 of those students.

EMU’s first-year class of 202 students is the largest in four years at the Harrisonburg campus. The Class of 2024 comes from 15 states and seven countries, and close to 30 percent identify as first-generation college students.

Overall enrollment benefited from new graduate degree and certificate programs and the second cohort of EMU Lancaster’s leadership and organizational management major with a concentration in aviation.

Goshen College traditional undergraduate enrollment rose slightly to a seven-year high of 778 students. Overall enrollment is down slightly, to 899 students. New full- and part-time students number 200, which is a 24% increase. Most of the 29 students who are attending classes remotely are international students.

Traditional undergraduate students of color or international students grew from 42% to 45% of the student body.

Fresno Pacific University, despite holding classes online only at all five of its campuses due to COVID-19, is celebrating that overall numbers are down by fewer than 100.

FPU has 4,001 students, with 1,680 in bachelor’s degree-completion programs, 1,362 in graduate programs (including 143 at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary) and 959 in traditional undergraduate programs. All but 52 of these students are full-time. Estimates anticipated a larger decline.

“To be just above 4,000 students this fall seemed impossible just a few months ago,” said vice president for ­enrollment management Jon Endicott. “I am thrilled by the numbers of students who enrolled as we pivoted to fully online instruction this fall. We surpassed last year’s graduate total and almost matched the all-time high in graduate programs from two years ago.”

Graduate enrollment rose by 59 to 1,303 students. Last fall FPU counted 1,843 students in degree-completion, 963 traditional undergraduates and 157 students at the seminary.

Currently 71 students live on the main campus.

Hesston College welcomed 177 new students to campus as overall enrollment of 363 declined slightly. Lower international enrollment (13% of the campus population) was attributed to the pandemic, while domestic enrollment remained steady.

“Though we’re disappointed that many of our international students couldn’t be on campus for the fall semester, we are glad they could join Hesston classes online and are planning to be on campus in January,” said Del Hershberger, vice president for admissions. “Hesston remains committed to being a globally engaged, Christ-centered community as we pull together to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment.”

Conrad Grebel University College undergraduate course enrollments have increased 7% since last year.

Graduate course enrollments are up 25%, with 19 new students in the Master of Theological Studies program, one of the largest cohorts ever.

Grebel has 102 students living on campus in single-occupancy residence halls and apartments.

Canadian Mennonite University began the academic year as the only fully accredited Manitoba university to provide on-campus living and in-person classes. Undergraduate and graduate students total 617 students, a decline of 1.9%.

Returning undergraduate student full-time equivalent enrollment increased by 6%, but first-year undergraduate enrollment is down by 20%, mostly due to COVID limiting incoming international students.

On-campus apartments and dorms are hosting 152 students in single rooms. About 8% of students are attending classes online-only.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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