Changing the story: the simple way Anderson University found enrollment success during a pandemic
Everything you read told the same story.
“A Crisis is Looming for U.S. Colleges,” blared the headline from NBC News.
“Coronavirus Drives Signs of a Major Drop in College Enrollment,” reported The New York Times.
“Pandemic Hammers College Enrollment This Fall,” was The Washington Post’s take.
But here’s the thing: None of these news outlets talked to Atyona Lambright, Faith Davis, Gabriel Linder or Hampton Clawson.
If they had, they’d have heard a different take, one that turned national trends on their heads. Lambright, Davis, Linder and Clawson are just four of 3,848 students who enrolled at Anderson University last fall.
There’s a different story here. A new headline. And it is this: “Despite COVID-19 Pandemic, Anderson University Sets New Record for Student Enrollment.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen. The reason it did is pretty simple. Anderson University is a special place.
Atyona Lambright is more than the sum of her parts. She’s more than a former high school cross country athlete. She’s more than where she’s from (Pickens, South Carolina.) She’s more than her name; it’s pronounced “Ah-tee-yawna,” by the way. She’s more than her upbringing as an African- American woman raised by white parents.
To paraphrase Whitman, she “contains multitudes.” And it is at Anderson University where she is seen as she wants to be seen. People at AU, she said, take the time to genuinely know her as an individual and not size her up based on her appearance, background or personality. That wasn’t always the case during her childhood, and it played a pivotal role in bringing her to AU.
She is one of 970 first-year students—the largest freshmen class in the University’s 110-year history.
Lambright said God led her to AU after she didn’t feel quite right staying overnight at another college she hoped to attend. After praying, she saw an email from an AU admission counselor that encouraged her to apply for a Connect: Diversity Leadership Scholarship. After applying and visiting campus for the scholarship competition, Lambright won a “great” scholarship “that was my open door,” she said.
Her story is just one of many that has changed the narrative of what was possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Student Clearinghouse is the nation’s most trusted source of college student data. It’s a non-profit, non-governmental agency “that works with higher education institutions, states, districts, high schools, and educational organizations to better inform practitioners and policymakers about student educational pathways and enable informed decision making.”
"I went to a BCM service...and it was amazing. Along with individual conversations and actions, that event showed me that the students and staff at AU are serious about authentically living out their faith for Jesus."
— Gabriel Linder
Class of 2024
Last summer, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, it reported undergraduate college enrollment was down 2.5 percent across the board. The news was worse for private, nonprofits; enrollment was down 3.8 percent, the Clearinghouse reported.
Its findings produced a rash of news articles as evidenced by headlines from the The Washington Post, The New York Times and other leading news organizations.
Others took a closer look. In August, just after the start of the fall semester, Inside Higher Education, one of the country’s leading higher education industry news organizations, ran an article titled “How Did a College You’ve Probably Never Heard of Do Well on Admissions: How an under-the-radar college in South Carolina nailed its admissions year.”
As you might have guessed, their story focused on Anderson University. It detailed AU’s approach to recruitment and enrollment following a look at the University’s enrollment report and an extensive interview with President Evans Whitaker, Ph.D.
Count William Monts among those who isn’t surprised by AU’s success last fall.
Monts, associate vice president and dean of traditional admission, said COVID-19 affected every university. While he was unsure why some universities shined while others struggled to meet their enrollment goals, he believes families chose AU, in part, because they see the value of an Anderson University education and are “committed to having that experience regardless of COVID.”
“They are seeking a quality academic experience, a school that is intentional when it comes to genuine hospitality and an institution that is going to support their Christian faith,” Monts said. “I think people like AU because we are who we say we are.” Monts also credited the entire AU community for successfully recruiting so many students.
Faith Davis, a freshman from Aynor, South Carolina, listed AU’s close-knit community as a characteristic that attracted her.
“It’s like a family,” Davis said. She also said that she and her family noticed AU’s hospitality during her visit. In addition, Davis said she came to AU because its curriculum upholds her Christian values and will encourage her to develop her faith and the professional skills that will help her thrive.
Freshman Gabriel Linder, who is majoring in emergency services management, said the confidence of the upperclassmen exuded while discussing their faith was one of several elements that attracted him to AU. For Linder, another attraction - echoing Monts's assertion that it takes an entire campus to recruit students - is that the collective campus communicated a commitment to authentic Christian living. Linder saw AU in action during the two-day Connect: Diversity Leadership Scholarship.
“My host and I went to a BCM service...(and) it was amazing,” Linder said. “The event atmosphere was lively, the worship team did very well and Pastor Stephen Splawn delivered a powerful message. That event is what solidified my commitment to attend AU. Along with individual conversations and actions, that event showed me that the students and staff at AU are serious about authentically living out their faith for Jesus.”
Hampton Clawson, a freshman criminal justice major from Gastonia, North Carolina, said people at Anderson University made him feel welcome when he visited.
For him, it wasn’t about national trends, the pandemic or anything else going on in the world. It was much more simple.
“It felt like home.”