18 Christian colleges close, merge campuses since beginning of COVID-19 pandemic

A group of young adults sit behind multiple tables.
A group of young adults sit behind multiple tables. | Courtesy James C. Svehla Flickr

Eighteen of the dozens of colleges that have closed permanently or were forced to merge since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic were Christian colleges, according to a recent report. 

Higher Ed Dive recently published a report on the closure or merging of dozens of colleges throughout the country, 18 of which were Christian colleges.

In addition to the pandemic, the group noted that factors such as the high cost of attending college, stagnating state funding, and a shrinking number of high school graduate enrollees have contributed to the decline.

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The Christian Post reached out to Higher Ed Dive for this story. A response is pending. 

Amanda Staggenborg, chief communications officer at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, a Christian higher education advocacy association with more than 185 member institutions, has noticed that the trend is impacting colleges across the board. 

Staggenborg told The Christian Post that both secular and religious institutions have experienced an enrollment decline. She cited multiple reasons for the decline, including a drop in birth rates leading to a decreasing number of students graduating high school and fewer high school graduates seeking higher education.

As Staggenborg noted, Christian universities did not begin to see a decline in enrollment until 2016, six years after secular public universities started experiencing a drop in students.

Staggenborg pointed to a report last updated in May 2022 by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that total undergraduate enrollment at undergraduate institutions had decreased by 9% between 2009 and 2020. The report believes that COVID-19 pandemic was the reason for most of the decline in 2020. 

“In contrast, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by 8 percent (from 15.9 million to 17.1 million students) between 2020 and 2030,” the report noted. 

Staggenborg also cited the 2020 study, "Diversity and distance learning: An exploratory study of the relationships between online and minority enrollment at private nonprofit Christian colleges," which addressed the likely reasons behind the higher education enrollment decline. 

According to that study, private nonprofit colleges feel the impact of declining enrollment of students ages 18 to 24 more strongly than larger public universities with more “robust academic options.” 

“Declining birth rates, changing national demographics, competition among colleges, and a strong economy have resulted in a decline in the number of new high school graduates seeking a traditional residential college experience,” the study noted.

Staggenborg believes that Christian universities, in particular, can boost their enrollment by promoting their values and showing people what they have to gain by attending a faith-based institution over a secular one.

“There is no better time to communicate the value of Christian higher education,” Staggenborg said. “Faith is rooted in Christian higher education, where a student is called to use God-given talents and gifts combined with the learned skills in that university setting to live out that calling or that vocation.” 

Earlier this year, CP reported on a conference titled "The Fate of the Religious University," which was held at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., and consisted of various panels discussing how religious universities can boost their enrollment, encouraging the institutions to lean into their religious identities. 

Multiple panelists discussed strategies such as partnering with local businesses and allowing students to work on behalf of their community to help spread the campus culture.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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