Freshman enrollment reaches all-time high

Freshmen gather at the Freshman Welcome Party. The event concluded the first day of orientation. Monday, August 14, 2023. (Photo courtesy of MUR)
Freshmen gather at the Freshman Welcome Party. The event concluded the first day of orientation. Monday, August 14, 2023. (Photo courtesy of MUR)

Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a two-part series.

This fall’s freshman class at Southern Adventist University is the largest the institution has ever seen with 758 students, according to an email sent by University President Ken Shaw to faculty members on Tuesday.

The university is also experiencing its second largest undergraduate class ever with 2,827 students, according to Shaw’s email, which continued by stating that total enrollment stands at 3,155 students. Based on total enrollment numbers going back 16 years, provided by Chris Hansen, director of Institutional Research and Planning, this is Southern’s fifth-largest total enrollment.

Before this fall, Southern saw its largest freshman class, consisting of 652 students, in 2011, based on Hansen’s freshman enrollment numbers, which went back to 1993. Hansen was doubtful that years before 1993 held any record numbers, meaning this fall is the first time a freshman class has not only reached but also surpassed 700 students.

Both Cheryl Craven, director of Christian service, and Julie Devlin, service learning and community service coordinator, said energy was high among students during this year’s Southern Serves Day, previously known as Freshman Service Day. Southern Serves Day is an annual event during which Southern freshmen and other new students perform community service.

Craven said 632 students were marked present this year compared to 566 last year. 

“In the church, when [the participants] took the picture, it was just like, ‘Wow, there’s so many people,” Devlin said while describing the event’s morning meeting, during which all the participants gathered in the church. 

Incremental Growth

Hansen’s numbers also demonstrate that Southern’s freshman and total enrollments have been increasing incrementally since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the fall of 2020, freshman enrollment stood at 493, and total enrollment stood at 2,738. Last year’s freshman enrollment and total enrollment were 628 and 2,903, respectively. In three years, freshman enrollment has increased by 54% and total enrollment has increased by 15%.

To find out why Southern has seen such steady growth, especially in freshman class sizes, the Accent interviewed First Year Experience Coordinator Renita Moore. She believes several factors have contributed.

The first factor Moore mentioned was the increasing number of students from the west coast choosing Southern instead of other Seventh-day Adventist universities and colleges. 

“We are seeing a lot of new west coasters coming; we have 65 Loma Linda Academy seniors [this fall],” Moore said. “Sixty-five are here. That’s huge.”

Loma Linda Academy had 101 seniors in its 2023 graduating class, according to Spring Benfield, vice principal for academics at the academy. This means over 60% of the class chose Southern.

According to Hansen, the number of freshmen coming to Southern from California and Washington has been growing over the past few years. The number of freshmen from Florida has also risen. 

Dennis Negrón, vice president for Student Development, wrote in an email to the Accent that demographics are playing a role in Southern’s growth, with the southeast region of the United States growing more rapidly than any other region. According to an article on, southern states’ population growth outpaced all other United States regions’ growth in the second full year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Florida was the fastest-growing state for the first time since the 1950s, expanding by 1.91% between July 2021 and July 2022,” the article stated.

Negrón added that Adventists are included in that growth, with more and more moving to the southeast.

Moore said another contributor to Southern’s growth, specifically this year, was a recent change in recruiting trip techniques. Over the past few years, Southern has not sent as many faculty members representing their respective schools and departments on recruiting trips. For the first time last year, Moore visited each Adventist academy in the Southern Union in their stead. She and her team spent the majority of their time and energy building high school seniors’ class schedules, which hadn’t been a priority during previous recruiting trips.

“I deliberately went with the sole purpose not to recruit for a department but to advise,” she said. “ … The biggest difference is that we went to [the seniors], and we put them in classes. If it was before registration opened, all they had to do was push the button. We got them through the enrollment checklist and all the yuck of that.”

Southern’s Enrollment Management office has attributed this year’s record freshman enrollment to this new recruiting technique, Moore said. A prime indicator of the new technique’s effect was that the number of academy seniors who had registered for Southern by May was significantly higher this year than in previous years, she added. 

“I am not naive to think it’s just me,” Moore said. “It’s not me. It’s the process.”

Shaw shared a few reasons as to why this year’s freshman class is so large.

“One important factor is that our enrollment team has done a remarkable job sharing the good news about Southern this last year,” Shaw wrote. “As students visited our campus last year, I believe they sensed the genuine friendliness of our campus and experienced our mission being lived out in the interactions they had with our staff, faculty, and students.”

The Accent contacted Jason Merryman, vice president for Enrollment Management, for comment, but he is waiting for census numbers to be officially released.

Effects of Growth

When asked how this large freshman class has impacted the university and student body, Moore mentioned grumblings of parking struggles among students and increased creativity among administrators when it came to hiring additional adjunct professors, scheduling class times and mapping out classroom spaces. For example, the nursing Southern Connections groups Moore supervises typically meet in Lynn Wood Chapel, but, this semester, with over 160 new nursing students, they are meeting in Thatcher Chapel.

To accommodate the large freshman class, the First Year Experience office has increased its staff this year. It now has 61 student mentors on staff, at least 14 more than last year.

Southern expected an increase in freshman enrollment, Moore said, but not to this extent. 

“Very, very early projections suggest next year’s class to be large as well,” Negrón wrote. “Again, demographics suggest this.”

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