Tabor posts 2nd year of record enrollment


Largest enrollment in college's 101-year history

Tabor College press release

Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren college headquartered in Hillsboro, Kan.,  celebrated its Centennial last fall with an enrollment of 612 students, the largest in its 100-year history. Now for the second year in a row, the college has set new enrollment records, beginning its 101st year of “decidedly Christian” higher education with an unprecedented 640 students, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous year.

The official registrar’s tally following the 20th day of fall classes, on Monday, Sept. 21, shows enrollment records set by the college in five areas, including total overall enrollment (640); overall full-time equivalency enrollment (596); full-time students on the Hillsboro campus (504); full-time students in all programs (521), and graduate students (22).

While many colleges are finding it difficult to meet enrollment and retention goals during the current economic downtown, Tabor College President Jules Glanzer credits the record enrollment at Tabor to “hard work, strategic decisions and the grace of God.”

“My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord and the entire Tabor community who worked so hard to make this happen,” Glanzer says. “Having two years of record enrollment is a gift from God and a tribute to the hard work of many people who invest of themselves in the mission and vision of Tabor College. It was a team effort.”

Of the 184 new students enrolled on the Hillsboro campus this fall, 140 of them are freshman. Seventy-five members of the freshmen class are Kansas residents, and 65 are from out-of-state, including four international students. New transfer student enrollment is 44, equaling last year’s number. 

The record-setting enrollment was bolstered by a concurrent rise in student retention at Tabor College, which, from last spring to this fall, was 86 percent, the highest since 2002. 

Off campus programs

At the School of Adult and Graduate Studies in Wichita, Kan., 99 undergrads and 22 graduate students have enrolled, up from 93 undergrads and 11 graduate students last year. There are more than 70 students enrolled in nursing degree completion programs for the fall term. 

The school has begun a distance nursing education site in Colby, Kan., providing face-to-face learning experiences for rural nurses in Northwest Kansas. The college also is offering an online RN-BSN degree program, with immersion experiences, which has been the most requested Nursing Department program, according to Tona Leiker, dean of the School of Adult and Graduate Studies and chair of the Nursing Department.

Leiker predicts that the approval of the restricted licensure program in teacher education and the re-establishment of the college’s Master's of Education Degree program will bring continued growth to the school’s graduate program. The school’s MBA program has doubled in size, to 22 students enrolled this fall.

“We are serving the needs of adult learners and providing them with opportunities of hope, engagement, and career advancement, which make for a promising future at the School of Adult and Graduate Studies,” Leiker says.

President Glanzer agrees, adding, “The School for Adult and Graduate Studies is an integral part of Tabor College and helps us fulfill our mission of preparing people for a life of learning, work, and service for Christ and his kingdom. Students enrolled at AGS experience life transformation just as they do at the undergraduate programs in Hillsboro.”

Strategic recuitment

The overall recruiting effort at the college was orchestrated by Linda Cantwell, vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing. Last September she replaced Rusty Allen, who became vice president for athletics.

In her first year in the position, Cantwell continued to build upon the processes and strategies Allen and his team had developed to achieve recording-breaking numbers, while incorporating new relationship-building strategies with prospective students. 

“We knew this year held enormous challenges for us, with the change of leadership, conversion of the database, three new admissions counselors and the downturn in the nation's economy,” Cantwell says. “However, we also knew the Lord was bigger than all of those challenges and changes. We believed that he would keep his hand on Tabor College while guiding and directing us in how we spent our most precious commodity—time.”

Some Tabor admissions counselors spent more time meeting prospective students face-to-face, while others incorporated new social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, to connect with students digitally. Outreach also was enhanced by hosting special on-campus events, including Girlfriend’s Getaway for high-achieving female students, On the Spot Transfer Student Day and a Summer Sizzle Celebration designed to keep connected with students in the summertime.

Despite the long odds and long hours, the Cantwell-led enrollment management team was never flagging in its zeal to accomplish its mission. That’s because, Cantwell says, recruiting students to Tabor College is more than just a job for her and her team.

“On several occasions over the past year my admissions counselors have said to me, ‘Linda, this is my ministry! Talking to students about Tabor is my way of giving my time, talents and strengths back to the Lord!’” Cantwell says. “I celebrate the results of their hard work.”

Cantwell hastens to add, “It took more than the 12-member Enrollment Management team to make this happen. The entire campus partnered with us to help produce the record we realized this fall. It seems like such a cliché, I know, but it really was a team effort,” she says. “We celebrate the Lord's faithfulness to us. We are grateful.”

“This year we had over 311 prospective students on campus for individual customized visits, compared to 97 visits the year before,” Cantwell says. “Tabor faculty met with each and every one of them, and then many faculty members sent personal notes and made telephone calls as well. They were an incredible support base for us.”

The athletics coaching staff were critical in identifying students who might be a good "fit" for Tabor, Cantwell says. As a result, the Athletic Department exceeded both retention and new student recruitment goals it had set.

“My hat’s off to the coaches who worked tirelessly in recruiting godly and gifted athletes,” she says. “They worked with such a positive spirit all year long, recruiting students who desired an education at a faith-based institution and also wanted to participate in athletics. All those many miles, nights away from home, and telephone calls paid off.”

Retention efforts payoff

While Cantwell and her team were leading the effort to enroll new students, Amy Kjellin, director of Student Success, was taking steps to increase retention on the Hillsboro campus. For example, during the summer months, faculty, administrators and admissions counselors telephoned students whose names appeared on the list of those not expected to return. As a result, many of those students returned to campus this fall after all.

According to Eric Codding, vice president of Student Life, Learning and Formation, about half of the students who enroll in college every year in this country do not graduate within six years. With its focus on one-on-one attention, Tabor is performing better.

“Better retention is a sign of better health,” Codding says. “We’ve made a concerted effort to surround our students and encourage them to invest in all that Tabor has to offer. Higher retention rates suggest that our students are pleased with their choice to attend Tabor. This speaks well of our supportive environment that emphasizes one-on-one attention and commitment to the development of each student.”

Persuaded by vision

According to President Glanzer, what is more important than the strategies and tactics being used to improve recruiting and retention, is the fact that students have enrolled at Tabor College in record numbers this semester because students, and their parents, have been fully persuaded by the college’s vision, “To be the college of choice for students who seek a life-transforming, globally relevant, and decidedly Christian education.”

“During orientation I repeatedly had parents tell me that the reason they wanted their son or daughter to come to Tabor was because of our Christ-centered approach to education,” Glanzer says. “In some ways, we can say that our growth is due to our commitment to being decidedly Christian. In a broken world, Tabor helps students develop a mature Christian world view that provides a foundation for meaningful living. This is attractive to many parents.”

Glanzer adds that record enrollment and high retention was welcome news after last year’s painful budget cuts, staff reductions and loss of endowment revenue due to the economic downturn. While outlining an optimistic and pragmatic plan to redesign the college for the future, Glanzer also was forced to cut more than $500,000 from the school’s $10 million operating budget and reduce 11 highly-valued employees from the campus workforce, beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

“Last spring was a very difficult time for all of us,” Glanzer says. “Reducing the budget and staff was very painful. I know that some are wondering if we acted prematurely, but the budget cuts from last spring and the record enrollment this fall helped us avoid a major financial crisis this year. The record enrollment also has allowed us to not have to make additional cuts this fall.”

In addition to record number of students, donations to the college were at an all-time high. 

“We cannot forget the many constituents who pray regularly and give faithfully to the mission and ministry of Tabor College,” Glanzer says. “While we were all working hard, our constituents gave over $1 million dollars to our operating budget and over $1 million in restricted giving plus gifts to the stadium campaign.”


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