Rising trend: West coasters flock to SAU

Depicted above are Southern Adventist University’s freshman enrollments for the fall semesters of 2014 and 2023 divided into two portions: fresh- men from west coast states (California, Oregon and Washington) and freshmen from all other locations. In 2014, 57 of 559 freshmen came from west coast states. This fall, 143 of 758 freshmen came from west coast states. Note: In 2014, 26 freshmen’s home locations were unknown. In 2023, 17 freshmen’s home locations were unknown. The “unknown” numbers were counted to the “Other states, territories and countries” categories. (Graphs by Amanda Blake using numbers provided by Chris Hansen, director of Institutional Research and Planning)

Written by: Amanda Blake and Marian Polanco

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

The number of freshmen coming to Southern Adventist University from west coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — has increased by approximately 150 percent in ten years, based on numbers recorded in the university’s official Factbooks. 

Chris Hansen, director of Institutional Research and Planning, provided the Accent with freshman enrollment numbers divided by home state going back to 2014, accounting for 10 sets of data representing 10 fall semesters.

The rise in west coasters choosing Southern remains significant even when considering the rise in total freshman enrollment. This fall’s record-high freshman class of 758 students is 36 percent greater in size than the freshman enrollment recorded in 2014:  559. 

The university recorded that 143 freshmen attending Southern this fall are from west coast states, comprising 19 percent of the class. In 2014, that number was 57, comprising 10 percent of the class.

The number of students coming from California has notably grown in recent years. Between 2014 and 2018, California, Florida and Georgia swapped places as the second, third and fourth top states sending freshmen to Southern. Since 2019, California has remained in second place. Tennessee has remained number one. 

This fall, 109 Californians comprise 14 percent of the freshman class, second only to 2021, when 96 Californians comprised 17 percent of the class, based on numbers from the past 10 years.

Ryan Harrell, web and analytics manager for the university, wrote to the Accent that Southern has received an increasing amount of students from a particular part of the Golden State.

“Overall, we’ve seen an increase in yield from the Southern California region since pre-COVID,” he wrote. “We were historically yielding only in the 20-30% range from that region, and we’ve been around 42-45% range in the last two years.”

As reported previously by the Accent, Southern saw a record-high 36 Loma Linda Academy (LLA) students enrolled in its freshman class this fall, according to Harrell. Loma Linda Academy is located near San Bernardino, California, an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. Last year, the rate of admitted LLA students who went on to enroll at Southern was 46 percent. This year, that rate rose to 77 percent, Harrell added.

Although the number of freshman Oregonians has risen significantly when compared to 2014 — when only three freshmen came from the Beaver State — it has not experienced a large increase in recent years, remaining between 11 and 14 since 2020. The university recorded 13 freshmen from Oregon this fall.

The number of freshmen coming from Washington has been more versatile in recent years, experiencing a jump between 2017 and 2018 from seven to 15, a plummet to six in 2021 — equal to 2014’s number — and now a 10-year high this fall at 21.

Why Southern?

The Accent conducted a poll on its Instagram asking students from west coast states to explain why they chose to attend Southern.

Multiple respondents stated that they chose Southern because it offered a quality academic program they wished to pursue. Other common threads included the university’s friendly environment, active student body and spiritual atmosphere. Many also mentioned the appeal of Tennessee’s climate, with its mild winters, and Southern’s campus.

These responses align with the results of a survey conducted by Southern in September. The university texted 801 freshman and transfer students, asking them why they chose to attend Southern, and 111 responded. The top three reasons given by respondents recorded in the survey’s results were: “Adventist School/Christian Environment/God Sent me,” “Academics” and “Location.”

Alison Connelly, a Loma Linda native and junior biology major, had a clear set of reasons affecting her decision to attend Southern. In a text conversation, she told the Accent about her deep connection to the university, rooted in family ties and fond childhood memories of the area.

“I always thought I would go to Southern,” she wrote to the Accent. “I have family about an hour away, and I grew up visiting and really liked it.” 

Connelly also cited her post-graduate plans as a significant factor. She shared that she plans to return to Loma Linda after graduating and wanted a change of scenery during her undergraduate years since she had lived in Loma Linda her entire life.

Aleena Hurd, a junior health science major from Washington, texted the Accent about her decision to attend Southern: “I wanted to go to an Adventist university, and I wanted to be able to explore other states for a period of my life.” 

She considered other options like the University of Washington in Seattle and Walla Walla University, but her preference for an Adventist institution and desire to explore different states led her to Southern. Hurd wrote that she appreciates the small size of the university and its emphasis on providing a quality education.

Share this story!

Leave a Reply