Written by Tiane Davis
President Mike Williams announced in a press release to all Harding employees last week that Harding’s freshman class enrollment had increased from last year. With a 7.08% rise compared to last year’s first-year student demographic, the University surpassed its goal of 1,000 new students, the press release said.
“As we enter our Centennial year, the value proposition of a Harding education is extremely competitive,” Williams said in the press release. “We are proud to welcome each student and pleased to enroll this extraordinary freshman class.”
The press release reported a total enrollment number of 4,608, which includes students from 48 states and 58 foreign countries. The University, according to Williams’ announcement, surpassed its goals for undergraduate retention rates and graduation rates with an 87% retention rate and 71% graduation rate.
The University made major investments into facilities and technology, said Vice President of Enrollment and alumnus Steve Lake, and the faculty made specific efforts to focus on enrollment after a seven-year decline.
“We began to work much harder at pursuing prospective students,” Lake said. “This year’s increase is a byproduct of everyone in enrollment services working harder and buying into this new system and philosophy. Dr. Williams’ leadership and energy provided some of the additional sparks we needed to elevate our efforts.”
The seven-year decline in enrollment was painful to watch, Lake said. Enrollment is the “lifeblood of this institution,” and after he was asked to take it over in 2020, enrollment services began to “reassess and reimagine” the methods they were using to increase numbers.
“I love this place so much,” Lake said. “These are very challenging times in higher education, and to see more young believers have the Harding experience is extremely satisfying.”
Lake said being able to witness “this surge in enrollment” is extra meaningful knowing the University is seeing an increase specifically during its Centennial year.
“I am a big fan of Harding’s history — the people and the commitments and the sacrifice that was made by those that came before us,” Lake said. “We will forever honor those people and their efforts. More people need to experience this special place.”
The continuing upward trend for the freshman class was a group effort, said David Hall, assistant vice president of enrollment. Each person’s role at Harding is important in inviting new students to the University, he said.
“It feels good when you see the positive results for the work that you’ve put in,” Hall said. “In addition to that, I think the school has something extremely valuable for a lot of people out there, and it makes me feel like my role here has some significance.”
Trends like this take more than just a mission statement, Hall said. In order to keep the trend, the University needs to tell the story of Harding in a way that makes people want to visit and enroll, he said.
“That takes our students and faculty being able to fully reveal who they are to our visitors, and I think we’ve been doing that,” Hall said. “When students visit here, they look around, and they see students that are happy. They talk to faculty members who are deeply interested in what they want to do.”
Hall said he expects Harding to see cycles of good and bad trends but that he believes Harding will always have steady numbers because of the need for Christian education in the world.
“I am confident that Harding is going to be here for a long, long time,” Hall said. “We’re strong; We’re financially strong. We have something extremely valuable here, and I think that there are people who need what we have that are flocking to what we have.”