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Traffic was brisk at the Midwest Christian College Expo in 2021. This year's event is Feb. 26.

Christian college enrollment steady despite challenges of pandemic

Although many public colleges struggle to maintain enrollment during the pandemic, Christian colleges are fairing much better with undergraduate admission numbers.

Many Christian higher education institutions have seen record increases in enrollment from fall of 2019 to fall of 2021 according to Tim Fuller, a Christian college enrollment trend expert and founder of Fuller Higher Ed Solutions.

The study that showed good news about undergraduate enrollment applications comes as older adult applications at the same institutions decreased. That trade-off caused an overall decline of 5.5 percent.

Experts say it’s a give and take these days depending on which age group you are talking about.

Those Christian college numbers compare to a public college enrollment decline of 6.6 percent — or 1,205,600 students since the fall of 2019, according to the New York Times. The newspaper also found that enrollment in community colleges was down a whopping 13.2 percent, or 706,000 students, compared with 2019.

Post-traditional learners or older adult learners aged 37 and older may be putting off furthering their education because of the pandemic and family concerns, according to the Fuller organization. Fuller helps Christian colleges and universities with enrollment, strategic planning and other leadership issues.

The enrollment numbers reflect that older adult learners have faced a degree of struggle throughout the pandemic that many younger learners aged 17 to 26 have not experienced. Many older adult learners have had to stay home with their children who cannot attend school because of virtual learning, which has led to disruptions that have prevented many of them from enrolling in school.

Anita Widaman

Anita Widaman, publisher of metrovoicenews.com and founder of the Midwest Christian College Expo, says she expects large crowds at this year’s Feb. 26 event in Kansas City. “We had a tremendous response from the public and colleges last year at the height of the pandemic,” she states. “This year, interests among college reps to attend has been brisk and we expect over 50 colleges from 17 states to attend.”

The college expo, now in its 24th year, typically draws students and families within a 150-mile radius of Kansas City. “It is probably the largest college fair of private schools in the Midwest,” she says, “and interest has only grown in the last few years as Christian students look for an environment that nurtures, rather than cancels, their faith.”

That interest among the public has some guessing what the future will bring.

Enrollment in Christian colleges potentially could see drastic changes in many ways within the next few years. However, it’s too soon to tell how, said Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, an association that advocates on behalf of the interests of over 185 Christian institutions worldwide.

READ: Info on the Midwest Christian College Expo

“In a 10-year period or even in a five-year period, Christian college enrollment can have a surge or they might have a decline one year and then have the reverse the next year,” she said. “So I would say right now we are seeing something that has been ongoing.”

But one thing is known for sure. Some older students, those with families or careers, may be putting off degree completion or s second degree.

“For an older adult learner — whether they’re in graduate school or trying to complete an undergraduate degree later in their lives — often the biggest competition for them is not one school vs. another, it’s life itself,” Fuller said. “And during the pandemic, life itself for many adults has become a lot more complicated and especially for those who are in more vulnerable places socioeconomically.”

Hoogstra and Fuller agreed that the schools that saw increases in enrollment took extra steps to ensure that their institutions adapted to the changing academic and social environments amid the pandemic. As a result, they said, those schools saw the most successful increases in enrollment trends.

As for Widaman, she’s optimistic about Christian education. “We’ve been doing this for a quarter-century,” she stated. “We’ve never seen interest as high, or as focused, as it is now.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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