Bethel Celebrates Areas of Enrollment Growth in 2023

PSEO, transfers, and select academic programs brought surges in new students.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, contributing writer

January 04, 2024 | Noon

Students on campus

Students gather on Bethel's campus

Fall 2023 brought positive trends in enrollment at some evangelical colleges and universities nationally. Christianity Today released a story in September noting 11 schools that had seen record-breaking enrollment, touting a desire for community- and faith-centric learning after the isolation and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. 

Bethel saw positive growth in several areas in 2023. Most notably, there was a surge in Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) students—helping bring overall College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) enrollment to pre-pandemic levels. There was also an increase in transfer students and enrollment in key academic areas like undergraduate physics and engineering, post-baccalaureate nursing, and graduate-level physician assistant program, nurse-midwifery, and the play therapy certificate.

Chief Institutional Data and Research Officer Dan Nelson notes that colleges have been facing a few significant challenges in recent years. First, young people make up a smaller percentage of the population, meaning there are and will be fewer college-age Americans on the whole. And fewer high school graduates are pursuing higher education. In fall 2011, the number of first-year students enrolling in Minnesota colleges was 82% of the number of students who graduated from Minnesota’s high schools that spring. By 2021, the percentage had fallen to 57%. There are also more educational options out there, including for-profit and fully-online options that weren’t as prevalent years ago. But, Bethel and schools like it are doing what they can to adjust expectations, expand program offerings and format options, and continue to attract the right students.

Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)

Bethel has offered PSEO since the state program started in 1985, Nelson says, but enrollment has hit unprecedented levels recently. Part of this was intentional, with Bethel investing in its infrastructure and adding options for early college students. Beginning in fall 2021, Bethel expanded its PSEO program to include high school juniors and offer more online options. A dedicated PSEO engagement specialist role was created, and Maddy Stites ’23 took the helm, bringing a consistent presence and additional support to the PSEO experience. PSEO enrollment has tripled since 2021, with new PSEO students now outpacing new traditional students. Though retention seems to be positive, Nelson stresses that, “we don’t yet know how this surge in PSEO students will impact long-term enrollment.” 

Bethel has also recently gained top accreditation for its early college and concurrent enrollment programs–like College in the Schools. There are new feeder high school partnerships being developed that will hopefully further this positive trend.

Transfer students

Undergraduate transfers were up 40% in 2023, partially thanks to new efforts at recruiting and retaining transfer students. Bethel is part of the Minnesota Private College Transfer Admission Guarantee program, meaning transfer students who meet certain academic and eligibility requirements are guaranteed admission to Bethel. Admissions Counselor Grace Koehn specializes in transfer admissions and says this simplified process has been attractive to students facing the already-stressful prospect of switching schools. 

Transfer students tend to be really focused and dedicated. They’re looking for a home—that’s often something they thought they’d find at their earlier university, but didn’t. It’s fun to show them how natural it feels to be here—and really welcome them to our campus.

— Transfer Admissions Counselor Grace Koehn

Key academic programs

Bethel opened a brand new post-baccalaureate nursing lab space in fall 2023, which allowed the program to expand to two cohorts and allow more non-nursing college graduates to switch disciplines and pursue a B.S. in Nursing. Bethel’s award-winning M.S. in Physician Assistant and M.S. in Nurse-Midwifery programs continue to operate at capacity, and the Play Therapy Certificate—first launched in 2020—has also seen an increase in demand. 

Undergraduate enrollment in physics and engineering has surged in the years since Bethel launched stand-alone bachelor’s-level degrees in computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and software engineering—while enrollment remains steady in other hallmark departments like business.

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