Our enrollment is up. This is a good thing for a university that is, as we say, enrollment driven. We are a not-for-profit institution, but fundraising only supplements our expenses and builds buildings among other things. To cover our basic costs (teaching, classes, etc.) we rely on enrollment, that is, tuition income. So when enrollment is up, we can expand, unlike state institutions that rely on state funding.
The question I have been asked recently is why? Why is it up? Why now? What are students looking for, expecting, hoping for? Here are some answers, as reported by our admissions staff, and as students have told us.
- First we have expected it. We saw a little bit of it, especially with our adult students, last year. And now we are seeing it almost across the board. In a recession people become students, start or resume academic programs in order to prepare themselves for better times. This recession was steep enough, it seems, that there was a delay before this happened. But it is now happening.
- During the recession there have been layoffs. Those who have had more education have been more secure in their jobs. Some of our new students were layed off, or watched others without degrees have to leave. They are returning to college to finish their degrees, hoping to have a more secure future.
- Some are retooling. They have a degree. Now they are getting a second or higher one. This seems especially to be true in our graduate programs. Special Education, School Counselling and School Psych are booming–we have waiting lists. Our initial teacher credential programs are down due to fewer jobs for new teachers. This has been in the news recently. However, now may be the time to start a credential program. Despite the recession, lay-offs and encouraged retirements, those who watch the numbers say that within a few years (as the recession lifts) we will have a need for massive numbers of new teachers. Other programs like Kinesiology have also grown–we have a waiting list as well for this online masters.
- We have also admitted a number of students in our traditional undergraduate program who have left higher cost schools. Usually the higher cost schools are in the most demand. This year, for the first time in more than 30 years, we did not raise our tuition (one of about six universities in the US), and we had just increased our financial aid. A number of students have come to us this year after having been admitted to other higher cost schools because they just did not think they could afford those other schools–both UC campuses (lower tuition, but much lower financial aid, and generally higher living expenses) and independents. They knew they could get the courses they need to graduate on time. We are happy to have them.
- Many have had trouble getting courses at state schools, or did not meet rigid admissions deadlines and requirements. State schools live in a different economy that we do. They have been mandated to cut courses, student numbers, and expenses. Students understandably have looked elsewhere. I have been impressed by my colleagues at the state schools who are caught in a bind. They want to help those students and yet do not have the resources. They have been creative and caring. But fewer students can now be served. We saw a few students come our way last year, but this year the numbers have increased.
- More of our students have been eligible for state and federal aid who perhaps would not have been earlier. As incomes have dropped, eligible numbers of students have risen. State and/or federal aid, along with our own FPU aid, and special scholarships generously funded by donors have made it possible for more to join us. We encourage students to apply for admissions and for financial aid, just to see if it is possible for them to join us. When they take us up on it, they find it often is.
- Many have been personally challenged by the recession. They have taken it as an opportunity to reexamine the direction they have taken. They have wanted something more, and they have chosen to explore it with us. It may be a part of their faith or spiritual journey. It may be about personal and moral growth. It may be something on their ‘bucket list.’ We are honored to have them join us in that exploration. Crises have a way of opening our eyes to new directions and new possibilities, or to old goals long deferred. Each semester I am amazed by the stories they tell.
We of course are still feeling the recession–we had our lay-offs early on–and are struggling like everyone else. We have increased our financial aid, cut our expenses. But the 2010-11 year is starting positively and energy is high. We will have our largest traditional undergraduate new student enrollment ever (somewhere over 420), our largest degree completion new student enrollment (over 300) ever and a new high total number in that group, and graduate students will hold their own, with growth in selected programs. Many did not think they could afford an independent Christian education,and now are enthusiastic about starting. Many have remarkable personal stories to tell about how theg got here and why. As the recession winds down, they will be graduates who hit the ground running.