Move-in day for first-years at Eastern Mennonite University, fall 2021. (Photo by Rachel Holderman)

EMU enrollment reflects stability against pandemic challenges

Amid pandemic challenges and a nationwide drop in matriculation among college-age students, Eastern Mennonite University has logged another favorable outcome of stability in first-year and graduate student numbers this fall.

The outcome is significant as national trends predicted a major enrollment drop across U.S. higher education reflecting economic and public health challenges of the pandemic.

The Class of 2025 is 208, slightly smaller than last fall’s first-year class. Both classes are two of the largest classes in six years. One of EMU’s newer undergraduate programs — the leadership and organizational management degree with an aviation concentration — in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, also recorded an additional 11 new first-year students. The Class of 2025 marks the full four-year maturity of a flourishing program.

 “We can count this a victory against many odds, especially considering that national enrollment trends showed many graduating high school seniors were either choosing not to matriculate this fall or looking at other options besides a four-year degree, ” said Matt Ruth, director of admissions. “We actually lowered our target goals in anticipation, but were able to recruit a strong first-year class even though our counselors did not have the typical travel season to school fairs and our major open house events were virtual.”

Ruth ventures that EMU’s success in managing COVID-19 on campus during the spring semester also gave both prospective students and their parents good reason to trust their EMU college experience would be as normal as possible, with in-person classes, a thriving student life and residential campus activities, and extracurricular programming. 

The Class of 2025 represents 22 states and 6 countries, with the highest number of international students in the past four years. Approximately 28 percent are first generation; 36% identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). The top majors include nursing, engineering, biology, education, business administration, and aviation.

EMU reports a total undergraduate enrollment of 917, inclusive of adult degree completion and RN-BSN programs. Graduate enrollment, which includes graduate certificate, master’s degree and doctoral degree programs, is at 370. Eastern Mennonite Seminary has 51 students enrolled.

““We’re seeing the impact that COVID continues to have on educators, nurses, and the working professionals for which the majority of our graduate and professional programs are designed,” said Kirsten McKinney, director of graduate and professional recruitment. “ We’re proud of the relative stability we’ve been able to achieve in this challenging climate.”

Census data is collected as a traditional “snapshot” on Sept. 10 of enrollment trends, according to university registrar David Detrow.

Yet enrollment does continue after that date. McKinney pointed out that 14 part-time graduate teacher education students enrolled after data was finalized. 

Other significant data points include a rise in transfer students, an increase in the three-year retention rate, and an increase in students in the Intensive English Program.

McKinney and Ruth share optimism about EMU’s future growth in graduate and undergraduate admissions. Their teams are beginning to resume travel schedules to promote the university and “already working with prospective students for spring and fall 2022 classes,” Ruth said.