Pandemic impact on enrollment less than expected

Wayland Baptist University student Eliana Vaughn dons a face mask while on campus. Wearing a face mask is one of the requirements Wayland placed on students, faculty and staff for a return to campus for the fall semester. (Wayland Baptist University Photo)

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In spite of dire predictions, COVID-19 generally had a less-severe-than-anticipated impact on fall enrollment at most Texas Baptist universities.

Five Texas Baptist universities—Baylor University, Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Howard Payne University—along with Stark College reported higher overall enrollment in fall 2020 than in fall 2019.

Three schools—Baylor, HBU and ETBU—posted record total enrollments. Baylor, ETBU and DBU also recorded increased freshman enrollment, with Baylor and DBU reporting the largest classes of incoming first-year students in their history.

Those achievements run contrary to bleak national forecasts regarding college and university enrollment in the midst of a global pandemic.

Surveys of college-bound high school students in March and April prompted at least one higher education research and marketing company to predict four-year colleges would face up to a 20 percent loss in fall enrollment.

In a nationwide PulsePoint survey of college and university presidents in May conducted for the American Council on Education, two-thirds (65 percent) named fall enrollment as their most pressing issue.

Baylor, HBU defy expectations

Defying those fears and predictions, Baylor enrolled 19,297 students this fall, including 14,399 undergraduate students. Total enrollment in fall 2019 was 18,033.

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Linda Livingstone

Baylor reported 3,731 freshmen enrolled, surpassing the record 3,625 first-year enrollment in 2014. It also is the most diverse freshman class in Baylor history, with minority enrollment increasing to 38 percent.

“Even in the face of many unknowns and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tremendous interest in a Baylor University education from prospective students and their families as well as from our continuing students never wavered,” President Linda Livingstone said. “This is a true testament to the incredible efforts of hundreds of staff and faculty at Baylor.”

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HBU reported 3,975 total enrollment, marking eight consecutive years of record-setting enrollment numbers.

It included the highest undergraduate enrollment at the HBU campus for the second consecutive year and the highest online enrollment for the fourth consecutive year, according to James Steen, vice president for enrollment management.

With 647 enrolled, HBU marked its second-largest freshman class in history, behind last year’s record-setting 706 enrollment, Steen reported. The university also enrolled 160 transfer students.

ETBU sets record; Enrollment up at UMHB and HPU

ETBU posted 1,714 total enrollment, an 8 percent increase over fall 2019, marking the highest recorded enrollment in the school’s 108-year history. Enrollment in the university’s graduate programs increased 22 percent, and first-time freshman enrollment increased 17 percent over fall 2019.

In spite of uncertainties related to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, East Texas Baptist University is celebrating its highest recorded student enrollment in the university’s 108-year history with 1,714 total students, reflecting an 8 percent increase over fall 2019, and an 84 percent undergraduate retention rate—3 percent higher than the five-year average. (ETBU Photo)

“We celebrate the provision of a resilient and dedicated faculty and staff, faithful donors, supportive alumni and strong enrollment in the midst of the global pandemic,” ETBU President Blair Blackburn said.

ETBU also reported an 84 percent undergraduate retention rate—3 percent higher than its five-year average.

“ETBU’s success is the result of faithful men and women not allowing the circumstances of the pandemic to hinder them from being faithful in obeying God’s call of shaping students called by him to the Hill,” said Jeremy Johnston, vice president for admissions.

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor reported 3,876 total enrollment, up from 3,846 in fall 2019. UMHB experienced a drop in incoming freshman enrollment—741 this semester, compared to 868 in fall 2019.

Howard Payne University recorded 1,061 students—its highest overall enrollment since 2016, according to Kyle Mize, assistant vice president for communications. Fall 2019 total enrollment was 1,031.

While first-year student enrollment numbers are down slightly from the same time last year, retention at HPU is up, he added.

Stark College, BUA feel COVID-19 impact

At Stark College, 182 students registered for the fall term, compared to 175 students in fall 2019. All fall classes at Stark College are being offered online or via Zoom teleconference.

The school’s entry-level certificate program enrolled 93 students, compared to 105 last fall.

Stark College’s student population is 55 percent Hispanic, 22 percent Black, 2 percent Asian and 3 percent two or more races. Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority groups, the school has faced significant challenges, President Tony Celelli said.

“Thirty-four students were personally affected by the virus either by contracting the disease, lost their job, or lost wages,” Celelli said. “Additionally, another 26 students felt the sting of the virus by a family member who contracted COVID-19, lost their job, or lost wages. Unfortunately, seven students lost family members due to COVID-19. Our hearts are heavy with the loss experienced by Stark’s nontraditional students.”

Baptist University of the Américas reported a 17.2 percent decrease in its total enrollment, compared to fall 2019. However, freshman enrollment increased 7.1 percent.

The number of single students living on-campus at BUA dropped 50 percent compared to this time one year ago.

“Most of our students are now taking classes online. They have remained with their families, but they are continuing their education at BUA,” said Gabriel Cortés, chief of staff at BUA.

Ups and downs at Wayland, DBU, HSU

Wayland Baptist University reported increased enrollment—1,166 students this semester, compared to 1,156 last year—at its Plainview campus. The total included 979 undergraduates and 187 graduate students.

However, the university reported decreased enrollment at its external campuses—2,178 in fall 2020 compared to 2,930 in fall 2019.

Dallas Baptist University reported 4,247 total enrollment for fall 2020—a 5.3 percent decrease from 4,487 in fall 2019.

However, DBU enrolled its largest-ever class of incoming first-year students at 618—a 7.85 percent increase over 573 the previous fall semester.

DBU also recorded 2,419 traditional-age students on campus, the largest number in the school’s history. The school’s overall retention rate of traditional-age students was almost 90 percent. The university retained 75.58 percent from its freshman class to its sophomore class, compared to last year’s 71.62 percent retention rate.

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Eric Bruntmyer

Hardin-Simmons University reported 2,128 total enrollment for fall 2020, down from 2,324 in fall 2019. New undergraduate student enrollment is 527, compared to 581.

However, new graduate student enrollment showed an increase—183 this semester, compared to 179 in fall 2019.

HSU officials reported increased enrollment in several new programs in business, science and health.

“At HSU, we are blessed to have our students back on campus together. We are all working to prioritize everyone’s safety and health while continuing to provide an education enlightened by Christian faith and values. With support from our faculty, staff and students, HSU is very optimistic about this year and beyond,” President Eric Bruntmyer said.

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