HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – As many universities around the nation report declines in enrollment sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, Centenary University is reporting significant increases in new undergraduate and graduate students for the fall semester. The University’s experience seems to be in line with a trend reported anecdotally at some independent colleges and universities in New Jersey.
Robert L. Miller, Jr., Ph.D., vice president for enrollment management, said “Centenary has recorded a 17.5 percent increase in new undergraduate students this fall. He attributed the gains to current student preferences for excellent academic programs offered in small campus environments that may be more academically agile than larger universities when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus, allowing for both on campus and virtual learning. Last spring, when colleges and universities across the nation quickly pivoted to online classes, Centenary University didn’t lose a single day of instruction.”
“At a time when most colleges were expecting, and many have experienced, declines in new students, Centenary is reporting a strong increase,” said Centenary University President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D. “I’ve heard the same from a number of presidents of independent colleges and universities in New Jersey. This is truly a good news story.”
For the fall semester, the University launched a new program called “Centenary Choice,” which has permitted students to choose whether to attend classes in person, online, or in a HyFlex format that combines in person and online learning. Newly-installed advanced technology in classrooms makes the remote experience more like in person instruction, rather than a Zoom conference.
In terms of total enrollment, Centenary has just four fewer full-time undergraduates than last year. Dr. Murphy attributed the slight decline to a combination of normal annual attrition, as well as to the pandemic. “Some returning students have taken a more cautionary approach to the fall, and that’s perfectly understandable,” he noted. “We’re looking forward to welcoming them back to Centenary in the future. Our residence halls are currently at 60 percent of capacity and about a third of Centenary students have chosen to study remotely this semester.”
To date, Centenary has no reported cases of COVID-19 on campus, but officials and students are approaching the semester with caution. A key part of the University’s reopening strategy involved enhanced campus cleaning, as well as training and education on practices to prevent COVID-19. Kerry Mullins, vice president for student life and dean of students, noted that the University has also hosted individual move-in appointments for resident students, outdoor movie nights, virtual scavenger hunts, and Zoom meetings for clubs and organizations. In addition, while athletic teams are not currently competing, they are still holding team activities to stay in shape, said Director of Athletics Travis Spencer, who reports that the Centenary University Cyclones have not lost a single student-athlete this year. In fact, the Cyclones have gained several athletes who wanted to attend college closer to home, according to Spencer.
Ultimately, the success of the semester rests on the campus community following safety protocols established by the University over the summer. “We have been successful so far because of several factors,” Dr. Murphy explained. “We are small, so we are not reliant on situations that lead to mass spreading of the virus—large classes, mega-dorms, crowded football stadiums, and mass transportation. Our location in Warren County has us surrounded by three (COVID green) New Jersey counties and three (COVID green) Pennsylvania counties. And we made investments in technology a couple of years ago that facilitated our spring pivot, giving us confidence to move forward.
“But the greatest contributor to our plan so far has been the people of the Centenary community—the students who are doing all we’ve asked of them in terms of safety, the faculty who have gone the extra mile to make distance learning as meaningful as in person while keeping up their dedication to student success, and the staff who perform the myriad of tasks that make the University run effectively in support of our students.”