Positioning Bethel for the Future

Through intentional investments and discretionary budget adjustments, Bethel will prepare for a strong future in the dynamic landscape of higher education.

By The Office of Marketing and Communications

December 10, 2019 | Noon

In an intentional move to stay ahead of declining enrollment trends affecting colleges and universities across the nation, Bethel will make reductions in personnel and expenses beginning in early 2020. The budget adjustments will allow Bethel to invest in new programs and initiatives and position itself to thrive in the evolving landscape of higher education. 

“These changes, while painful, are a necessary part of our work to ensure Bethel will thrive well into the future,” says Deb Harless, executive vice president and provost. “By investing in new programs and initiatives and reducing our operating costs, we will create a sustainable path forward that will equip our faculty, staff, and students for success.”

Bethel is one of many universities nationwide facing economic challenges because of dwindling numbers of high school graduates and traditional, college-age students. Over the last decade, first-time undergraduate enrollment in the United States has fallen by 10%, according to National Student Clearinghouse data. The economic downturn and subsequent decline in birth rates during the Great Recession is largely behind the enrollment drop-off, leaving higher education institutions—especially regional, liberal arts universities like Bethel—with little choice but to adapt, innovate, and make difficult decisions with the future in mind. 

Bethel will announce staff changes in January and faculty reductions in April. Affected faculty will conclude their employment at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. The university will also offer teach-out programs to students studying in disciplines affected by curriculum changes. 

“We’re making strategic, data-informed decisions that proactively address market challenges while remaining true to who we are,” says Michael Vedders, chief enrollment and marketing officer. “By creating space for new investments and revenue sources, we’re ensuring that Bethel can continue to prepare well-educated, compassionate leaders who live out biblical truth, transform culture, and advance the gospel.”

Bethel remains committed to providing students with a transformative, Christ-centered education through a strong foundation in the liberal arts, experiential learning opportunities, and a low student-faculty ratio. In recent years, the university has significantly expanded online degree offerings for adult undergraduate, graduate, and seminary students, invested in the recruitment and support of military students and students with intellectual disabilities, and launched a variety of high-demand programs, including a B.A. in Special Education, four undergraduate engineering majors, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree that rounds out a suite of nationally recognized nursing programs. 

Moving forward, Bethel will continue to improve affordability and accessibility—hot-button issues for many prospective students and families. While the cost of college has steadily risen nationwide as a result of expanding student services, larger financial aid packages, and increasing operational costs, Bethel is actively investigating ways to reduce tuition without sacrificing important aspects of the student experience.

“We’re working out a solution to a challenging equation,” says President Jay Barnes, “and we’re striving to do it in a God-honoring way. We are rooted in our faith, hopeful for the future, and incredibly proud of the difference our graduates have made and will continue to make in their workplaces, churches, and communities—for God’s glory and their neighbors’ good.”