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Pandemic Causes Enrollment Declines at Adventist Colleges and Universities in North America


The Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities (AACU) has released the fall 2020 enrollment totals. The effects of COVID-19 are reflected by a larger than usual decline in overall enrollment. In a nutshell:

• First-year students are down 10.9%

• Undergraduates are down 5.8%

• Graduate students are down 2.7%

• Total enrollment is down 4.3%

The accompanying press release, dated November 2, reminds readers that

“the consolidated 2020 fall enrollment for AACU institutions totals 21,985 students. That’s more students than some of the largest US-based colleges and universities. The combined program offerings of AACU institutions represents almost 400 unique degrees and certificates at campuses that provide a safe harbor for students seeking a faith-based education.”

The declines, while discouraging, are not unexpected. The ravages of the novel coronavirus are being felt everywhere; nationwide enrollment in private, non-profit four-year schools is down 3.8% as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

While many graduate students and, to a certain extent, undergraduates who are closing in on completion of their programs, are trying to stay focused on their coursework, many first-years have made a choice to sit out the 2020–21 school year and hope for a more traditional experience in fall 2021.

As always, however, there are differences among institutions. Four AACU campuses are actually up in total enrollment: Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) is up over 12%, Adventist Health University (AHU) nearly 7%, Pacific Union College (PUC) over 4%, and Loma Linda University (LLU) just over 1%.

Those that took the biggest losses include Burman University (BU), which is down over 12%, La Sierra University (LSU), Washington Adventist University (WAU), and Southern Adventist University (SAU), each down approximately 10%.

To what does SWAU attribute these encouraging numbers? “We believe that the increase is the result of our collaboration with our Union President and local conference presidents who partnered with us as we worked to serve our constituents and their students. Our emphasis was to keep them more centrally located during these uncertain times,” responds Vice President for Academic Administration Donna Berkner.

The pandemic has exacerbated a decline that AACU anticipated 15 years ago, a trend that, again according to the recent press release, is “directly related to changing demographics in the North American Division and declining enrollment at private Adventist elementary and secondary schools. Marketing initiatives started by AACU over the past decade focus on slowing this trend and reaching out to Adventist students who otherwise elect to attend public institutions.”

For more about all 13 institutions, visit


AACU (Association of Adventist Colleges & Universities) Fall 2020 Enrollment Press Release:


Nancy Hoyt Lecourt is retired from teaching and administration at Pacific Union College.

All images and graphs courtesy of


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