Colleges in McPherson County have seen enrollment numbers rise over the past couple of years and are excited they will keep rising.

Techniques used by area colleges range from improving the appearance of the school to offering full-ride scholarships to McPherson County Students.

For example, McPherson College has seen steady enrollment growth over the past two decades due to intentional incremental growth and increasing quality and value of programs, said Tina Goodwin, director of public relations at the college.

While enrollment numbers may be rising, the college has to keep their students after enrollment. Last year, McPherson College saw the freshmen retention rate increase to 70 percent from 56 percent, which is high among regional private schools.

"We are happy to say this fall, McPherson College has maintained that percentage," Goodwin said.

Retention efforts

Sometimes, when students choose a certain college, it doesn't always work out the way they planned, and some end up leaving.

In 2014, McPherson College tried their best to improve freshman retention and brought the entire organization together to try new approaches to keep freshman for all four years.

Goodwin said many ideas were laid out on the table, some worked some didn't, but professors and staff were all in it together to achieve their goal.

Professors and staff started showing up to class 15 minutes early to talk to students and create bonds, Goodwin said, staff members did their part by greetings students by name and attending events outside of the regular school day. Coaches even held social events for their athletes so they could build connections with members of other teams. The student life department also developed freshman-only floors in the residents halls so new students could mingle with other students their own age.

"The Community by Design strategic plan outlines a process over the next five years that will further help the college develop academic program enhancements based on past success," Goodwin said.

Goodwin feels because of a strong donor-base the college has, it affects the scholarships, and in return, making them a larger more generous amount.

Lastly, having a strong alumni and friend support system has allowed the college to invest their money in academic programs and enhance their facilities.

"We were very excited to learn that McPherson College was recently recognized for providing value in the 2017 Best Colleges for the Money by Money Magazine. The magazine evaluated colleges based on quality of education, affordability and outcomes," Goodwin said.

Appearance is a big deal at any college, and Goodwin agrees. She said this year to improve the college, they installed new floors in Metzler Hall and brought in new furniture for rooms in Bittinger Hall; along with a keyless entry in nearly all of the campus buildings.

"As part of Community By Design, the college’s strategic plan, a new five-year master plan will be developed to explore enhancements to student services. The next campaign will include enhancements such a new student center and improvements to residence halls," Goodwin said.

Lenny Favara, Provost of Central Christian College explained one area Central Christian College is targeting heavily is retention for the college.

“A look back at past retention numbers indicates that we could use some real work here. With our size, a large percentage of our students participate is in varsity athletics. When those students are not seeing play time, they tend to look elsewhere for better options,” Favara said.

Favara said the college is focusing on “Success Studies and Vocational Guidance.” He believes successful students tend to be happier and tend to stay.

Central Christian College has experienced growth in their student numbers lately, and are having to build more residential buildings due to the growth of the residential program.

“Central Christian College is looking at expanding facilities. Currently, the college is leveraging several properties near the school as part of our progressive housing model, which allows upperclassmen to move from dorm living style to apartment style,” Favara said. “However, the college does need additional space and is looking to break ground soon on a new living complex.”

William Jones, president of Bethany College, believes that people are recognizing more and more that Bethany College has been around for more than 136 years and is known for producing successful professionals through that time.

“I think more and more students want that kind of educational experience,” Jones said.

Bethany, along with many other colleges, track retention from freshman to sophomore year.

“That’s a first time full time retention rate and we also take a look at graduation rate. That number has been across the board. Some people have been here four or five years to secure graduation rates. But I can tell you at Bethany, this year we’re up because of new student interest,” Jones said.

This year at Bethany, they had the largest freshman transfer group they’ve seen. Along with that large number, they have had better luck with retention rates; improving by eight percentage points.

“So we have more students coming back than the prior years and we have this large group of new students. Its the perfect combination for a college to grow,” Jones said.

With better retention rates and higher enrollment numbers, Jones believes this is due to students doing their research and homework before visiting the college and wanting to find the best fit for their college experience.

Bethany has also improved the look of their college adding: new classroom furniture, new equipment for the gym, new wifi for better access across the campus, better athletic facilities, an air conditioned gym, and new mens and women’s soccer changing rooms.

“We’ve made an investment to the college the last couple of years that I think some of the areas that students want and have paid attention to,” Jones said.

New Programs

Small, Christian colleges find that unique course offerings can increase enrollment numbers, but also prepare students for the future.

“One area in particular is career-focused activities like internship opportunities for students – 90 percent of McPherson College students have at least one internship before graduating. Ultimately students choose a college based on the quality of the education they are making an investment in,” Goodwin said.

Favara said enrollment at Central Christian College continues to grow not only residentially, but in an online presence as well.

“The college’s commitment to its mission and perspective also make it appealing for students looking for a unique college experience,” said Favara.

The College Work Program at Central Christian College is another area that is also growing for the college and is attracting students.

“This program, initiated by Hal Hoxie, President of Central Christian College, allows students to attend the college without amassing large amounts of college debt. In addition, it allows the student to gain vocations, experience and build his or her resume,” Favara said.

Favara feels that Central Christian College has a unique niche in their programs and co-curricular programs. The programs are all directed toward the development of key character qualities.

“We call this Fit Four model: Fit Hearts, Fit Minds, Fit Bodies and Fit Souls,” Favara said.

While other high education institutions offer similar curriculum found in most institutions, Favara said Central Christian College focuses on character development, “which weaves the entire college experience together.”

An area that is affecting larger numbers at Bethany College is the Good Life Scholarship, which has been very successful for Bethany. The scholarship offers a free ride to students graduating from McPherson County

“This year we have 37 freshman from McPherson County,” Jones said.

Competition between schools

Goodwin said McPherson College's real competition is with community colleges and state schools. McPherson College is able to compete with these schools by offering extraordinary value to its students along with generous scholarships, and quality eduction, Goodwin explained.

"Faculty are able to offer individual attention to students in smaller classes, and students come to McPherson College to participate in co-curriculars like band, choir, theatre, and athletics while getting a education — something they can't always do at a state school," Goodwin said.

Favara also agrees Central Christian College is not in competition with other colleges around the area. He said colleges in this area have a "unique brand, each with their own strengths and program distinctness."

"Rather than adversarial approach, Central Christian College views the interaction between area colleges as a cooperative educational effort," Favara said. "Of course, that all changes when our teams meet on the court of play!"

Along with Goodwin and Favara; Jones also feels Bethany is not in competition with McPherson College or Central Christian College.

"We have a very collegial relationship with area colleges particularly with McPherson, and Kansas Wesleyan; we feel like we're on the same team." Jones said.

However, Jones explained that they are in more of a competition with independent colleges across the country as well as public colleges and universities.

"We cheer for Mac College and we cheer for Kansas Wesleyan; we hope they cheer for us," Jones said.

Contact Brooke Haas by email bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @MacSentinel.