Enrollment Rises in Christian Schools; Expert Lists Factors

The student enrollment rates in higher educational institutions - particularly Christian schools - skyrocketed in the past decade.

According to a recent U.S. Department of Education survey, student enrollment increased by a whopping 67 percent in some 130 member institutions of Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) between 1992-2002.

Tom McWhertor, Vice President for enrollment and external relations at Calvin College, believes there are several contributing factors to the change.

One such factors is the addition of “degree completion programs” that became available at most CCCU schools only after 1992.

“Some proportion of that 67 percent is the degree completion program,” explained McWhertor. “These target students who started college at some point in the past, but didn’t finish, so now they’re older students.”

The programs are a new trend in higher education in general. Most higher educational institutions did not begin offering the programs until the 1980s, and Christian colleges are catching the trend.

“Some of them have thousands of students in it,” said McWhertor. “Indiana Wesleyan College in Marion, Ind., has about 2000 students on their campus in their traditional education program, but they have close to 4000 students who are taking a degree through satellite sites in 30 some locations across the state of Indiana.”

McWhertor, who joined Calvin faculty in 1991 as director of admissions, guesses that as much as a half of that increase may be due to these programs.

“Which is still a good thing,” said McWhertor. “It doesn’t diminish the good things that are happening in Christian colleges.”

To McWhertor, there are other significant factors that are worth discussing, such as a cultural shift, an openness to Christian education and the expansion of classes and majors offered in Christian schools.

Calvin, ranked number two among America’s Best Colleges this year by the U.S. News & World Report, has about 100 majors and minors and programs of study currently available.

“So now, we’ve become a legitimate option for someone who wants to pursue those fields whereas previously, even if they were interested in a Christian college, they couldn’t get that major perhaps,” said McWhertor.

These institutions, which have struggled just to maintain subsistence in the past, have improved in quality over the years, moving the numbers up.

"Now I believe students better understand what we’re all about because we’ve communicated it better to them, instead of just preaching," said McWhertor. "We’re talking to people who don’t know us as well and that’s enabled us to improve the quality and the quantity of the students we’re getting."