Freshmen class largest in 10 years despite low application numbers

Renita Moore teaches her nursing Southern Connection class in Lynnwood Hall Chapel. This year, there have been higher
enrollment numbers than in previous years. Wednesday, September 1, 2021. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)
Renita Moore teaches her nursing Southern Connection class in Lynnwood Hall Chapel. This year, there have been higher enrollment numbers than in previous years. Wednesday, September 1, 2021. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)

According to Vice President for Enrollment Management Jason Merryman, freshmen enrollment for the Fall 2021 semester is the largest it has been since 2011 at 571 students. Transfer students add an additional 129 students, making a total of exactly 700 new students on Southern Adventist University’s campus this fall. 

As far as reasons behind increased enrollment, Merryman cited intentional action from his staff despite difficulties stemming from COVID-19. The team focused on advertising both the affordability and value of Southern’s education. They spent “long days and nights,” according to Merryman, sometimes even up to 10 or 11 p.m., communicating with prospective students and their families, often through Zoom or telephone calls.  

“We worked really hard,” Merryman said. “I’m really proud of my team. And on top of working really hard, I prayed literally every day that God would put us in front of as many families that were interested in hearing about Southern and just us doing the best we could to share what Southern is about and why they should be here.

 “That’s really it,” he added. “Just a combination of hard work and just putting God at the center of our conversations and our day.”

Looking back on the previous year, Merryman said he stands “in amazement at how we got here.” The previous year, he and his team faced “a very scary thing” as they watched applications come in for the Fall 2021 semester. They received a total of only 1,900 applications, in contrast to the typical 2,300 applications received yearly.  

“This is where God comes in again,” Merryman said. “Despite having the lowest total applications that we’ve received in years, we have the largest class that we’ve ever had in ten years. So, again, I go back to keeping God in the middle of that, working really hard and just being passionate about what we do and believing in Southern.” 

Several freshmen responded to an Accent Instagram story about why they chose Southern. 

“I chose Southern over a couple of other Adventist schools because of its beautiful location and campus,” freshman business administration major Kareena Hansen said. “I also really liked the connections I had developed with the professors, even just from visiting the campus!”

According to biology pre-dentistry major Helen Gordon, she chose Southern because it seemed well-rounded and had “a little bit of everything.” 

“I also felt that it would help me on my path spiritually,” Gordon said. “God has been good to all of us, and this school these first few weeks [has] proved just that.” 

In addition to enrollment, retention rates are also looking good, according to administrators. Senior Vice President for Academic Administration Bob Young reported that “retention of first-year students to the second year has increased by about 12 percentage points in the last fifteen years to approximately 80%.” 

Retention in sophomore and junior years has also improved. 

“Overall retention of students from the second to the third year and from the third year to the fourth year was higher this fall than at any time in the past 17 years at 71.5% and 64.5%, respectively,” Young said. 

According to Young, retention has increased as a result of changes in admission standards, the addition of mentors for first-semester freshmen, the addition of the Southern Connections class, amendments in how student scholarships work and amendments in general education. 

Rising enrollment numbers has also led to the expansion of Southern Village to include parts of the upper stateside apartments, according to Interim Vice President for Student Development Lisa Hall. Students are now occupying the Kentucky and Mississippi apartments, which were originally used for guest housing. 

According to Vice President for Marketing and University Relations Ingrid Skantz,  COVID-19 has also contributed to the decision to expand Southern Village and temporarily close guest lodging.

“Guest lodging is only temporarily closed to provide students with housing while a number of quarantine rooms are needed in the residence halls for students who have been exposed to COVID,” Skantz said. “[The Tennessee building] is being used as an isolation space for students who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

Skantz encouraged visitors to find lodging in local Ooltewah hotels.

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