As published in a previous Southern Accent article, Southern’s enrollment projections for returning students in the Fall 2020 semester were exceeded. Despite the continuous COVID-19 pandemic, Southern’s enrollment projections for both returning and new students for the Winter 2021 semester are also high, and many students who took only online classes this fall are expected to attend classes in-person next semester, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Jason Merryman.
Retention Services Coordinator Cheri Durst said retention rates are currently at an all-time high at Southern with 91% of non-graduating students who attended in the Winter 2020 semester having returned for the Fall 2020 semester. As of Nov. 20, 80% of eligible students had already registered for the Winter 2021 semester, according to Durst. Out of the 422 students not yet registered, about 70% have finance holds. Durst said Student Finance is working diligently to clear those holds, and advisors are currently reaching out to help. She encourages students who have not registered for next semester to complete the registration survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/W21 to inform Southern of their future plans and request assistance if necessary.
The increase in Southern’s retention rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic could have been partly caused by the new initiatives taken by Southern’s Student Support Team in the spring and summer, according to Durst. When students were sent home in the spring, Student Support contacted each student to provide important campus information and offer assistance in a variety of ways. The team also took unprecedented action by reaching out to current students over the summer.
“Having a connection to campus during the summer break seemed to be helpful in reducing anxiety as students made plans to return,” Durst said. “Our greatest privilege was to pray with students about their specific situations.”
According to Durst, Student Support managers will be offering these same services over the holiday break to current students and those who withdrew from Southern over the past year.
“We hope to maintain or increase the retention rate as we invite students who didn’t return due to COVID-19 to re-join our campus family,” Durst said.
In addition, Southern is anticipating a higher number of new students starting next semester, which Merryman called “remarkable.” According to Merryman, the number of new freshmen currently registered for next semester is about the same as the number registered at this time last year, and the number of students transferring to Southern from other colleges next semester is almost three times higher than the number Southern gained in the Winter 2020 semester.
Merryman added that the number of students taking in-person classes next semester is also expected to be greater than the number that did so this fall. In a survey of 310 students conducted on the Accent’s Instagram, only 18 students said they were not taking in-person classes at Southern next semester.
“Now that we have almost completed one full semester during a global pandemic with very few cases on campus, we are seeing increased confidence from students and families who are able to see our COVID dashboard daily and realize that we can, in fact, have in-person classes during this pandemic,” Merryman said. “Many of those students are now choosing to attend in the Winter 2021 semester.”