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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How long before critical mass kicks in to close 'em down?

Maybe not.

It is highly likely that the current environment will stimulate trends among students that are different from the “traditional experience.” It may be that lower-cost alternatives will gain ground at the expense of the “traditional experience” If college/university leaders are counting on a return to normalcy, they may be in for a rude awakening. They probably know that in their hearts, but commitment is strong to the historical model.

In any event, the market will speak. Adventist institutions are not immune to market forces.

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If anybody anywhere thinks that a return to normalcy is ever going to happen, yes, a rude awakening will be smacking them in the face very soon.


COVID-19 has disrupted what we have called normalcy in our fast moving age. It has given us the opportunity to return to the normalcy of ages gone by where people had the time to study the word and spend time with God.

My child was diagnosed Thursday. Now I am on precautionary self-isolation while caring for her. I have the time to do all the things that I was too busy to do before.

Being in a high risk age group, with some medical issues, I hope to avoid getting COVID-19, but in the end, my testimony must be that it was normal for me to seek God first and let everything else have second place.


I would anticipate that with the disruption that has also occurred within the local churches from Covid, that a number of potential students may also be feeling not as connected to the church as they were in the past, and that this will translate into reduced attendance.

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