While other state colleges and universities are seeing a decline in enrollment, Lander University is seeing the opposite.
“This is the first time we have ever finished an enrollment cycle during a pandemic,” Todd Gambill, vice president of enrollment and access management at Lander, said.
Rusty Monhollon, president and executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education, presented enrollment figures to the state Senate finance committee this month.
“Our enrollment numbers look better than they did in July,” Monhollon told the committee.
Monhollon told the committee that there were positive signs.
“Clemson, MUSC, Lander, USC Columbia increased their enrollment a bit to differing degrees,” Monhollon said.
Of the 13 state institutions of higher learning, Lander saw the highest growth in enrollment this year at 8.8%.
“We knew we were going to do well,” Gambill said. “We did anticipate all along of being well ahead of last year’s numbers.”
Gambill explained that Lander has been experiencing enrollment growth for the last four years.
“We have had the largest four freshman classes in history at Lander the last four years,” he said.
Gambill said Lander also set a retention record this fall.
“When you improve your retention rate and have the four largest freshman classes in the history of the institution, it is going to produce some good things,” he said.
The commission’s figures show Lander has grown 45% in its graduate student enrollment. Gambill credits that increase with the increase in the number of graduate programs the school offers.
He said Lander has not increased its tuition and fees in four years. He also reported more than 90% of Lander’s students are from South Carolina.
“Our growth is so key to Greenwood City and Greenwood County as well,” Adam Taylor, chief of staff and vice president for strategic initiatives at Lander, said.
Taylor said only half of Lander students live on campus, with the other students living in the surrounding community.
“That is a huge economic impact,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said students can ride the Lander Line to nearby businesses and restaurants, which can help boost their sales.
Other universities experienced some growth. MUSC had an increase of 4.5% while Clemson University saw a respectable 3% increase. University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus stayed slightly above even at 0.4%.
Other schools were not doing so well. USC Upstate saw a 10.9% decline in enrollment, the worst figure for state schools. USC Beaufort, SC State, Winthrop and Coastal Carolina all experienced a decline of about 5%.
Gambill said the marketplace for students is changing and could be why other schools are seeing a decline.
“There aren’t as many 18-year-olds now and there will be fewer 18-year-olds in five years from now,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for institutions to maintain, given the fact there are fewer 18-year-olds.”
Gambill said there are ways to keep enrollment from sliding. Offering programs at other locations, such as the University Center in Greenville, are ways Lander is looking at expanding its student base. He also said the expansion of online programs will help enrollment.
Taylor said if you add the growth of MUSC, Clemson and USC Columbia together Lander still beats them.
“We actually outperformed all twelve institutions combined,” Taylor said. “Us being able to perform at that level is pretty incredible.”