The Student News Site of Bethel University

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The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Enrollment decline creates debt


As Bethel University faces an unexpected enrollment shortage, the institution is projected to have a $1.5 million budget shortfall. 

By Molly Wilson

During the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly all aspects of life at Bethel University, from masking in classrooms to Arden Village West becoming quarantine housing. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nationwide enrollment has dropped 5.1% since fall 2019.

Bethel’s enrollment has been declining since 2011 when the number of millennials in college peaked. After World War II came the baby boom, which created a rise in college enrollment during the ’60s and ’70s. From 2008 to 2011, the children of that generation were going to college, Bethel’s Chief Institutional Data and Research Officer Dan Nelson said. 

In the time between these peaks, birth rates declined, leading to a lower population of college-age students in 2022 despite graduation rates remaining steady since 2001. 

The number of incoming freshmen is indicative of the enrollment decrease, Nelson said. The numbers show the instant effects of events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2008 recession.

Nelson also looks at Bethel’s “natural clientele,” which he defines as students and families predisposed to come to Bethel, and how it has changed.

Bethel draws students from a variety of categories, including legacy students. Many Bethel students have family members who attended Bethel. A category that used to be more influential is the university’s denomination. Bethel is a part of Converge – the old Swedish Baptist conference – which represented 54.6% of students in 1972 and only a reported 15.3% now. 

As of 2013, 75% of students were from Minnesota and, according to Nelson, that number has not changed much. 

Bethel is also seeing a lower amount of transfer students. According to Nelson, the phenomenon is due, in part, to transfer students opting for public universities. This has not always been the case. 

In 1969, when Nelson was first attending Bethel, the football team had a 0-9 record. Now people are coming to Bethel for athletics and the football team went 8-3 this fall.

The majors that Bethel attracts have also changed over the years. Currently, the most popular majors are nursing and business. In 1972, education topped the list. Now education programs like art education and early childhood have been cut.

In an email sent to staff and faculty from President Ross Allen Jan. 21, enrollment numbers for the 2021-22 school year were “meaningfully lower.” According to the Common Data Sets from 2019 and 2021, College of Arts and Sciences enrollment has dropped 10.9% compared to the 5.1% nationwide. 

Nelson says some, if not all, of these factors have contributed to a $1.5 million deficit in the budget. Based on the projections for the 2022-23 school year, about 100 more students are expected to graduate in spring 2022 than there are incoming freshmen in the fall. According to tuition and financial aid data from 2019, each student is worth almost $18 thousand dollars in tuition after institutional grants and scholarships, meaning an increase of 100 students in 2019 would be worth nearly $1.8 million, or more than the current shortfall. 

Allen also included in the email that Bethel has expanded the PSEO program to include high school juniors. Students are able to take Bethel University classes online or in person, creating the possibility for more students to attend Bethel and possibly contributing to bridging the gap between recent enrollment numbers. He did not say what the projected number of students would be but that

 “we will be ready to serve every person God directs our way!”

He also said, “I’ve heard from many prospective parents and students who are thrilled to know they’ll be able to get a Bethel education in a pathway they are searching to experience.”

Allen said admissions has hosted 700 students so far this year, a 20% increase from last year. Assistant Director of Admissions for the Campus Visit Program Jaycee Detloff denied requests for data about past visit rates and an interview to discuss visitation trends, including whether visitation rates have returned to their pre-COVID levels. 

Lower enrollment rates comes with lower revenue, so students can expect Bethel to continue spending less money in the coming years.

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