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ETBU celebrates record student enrollment despite COVID-19 crisis

August 26, 2020

Despite the uncertainties of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, East Texas Baptist University is celebrating its highest recorded student enrollment in the University’s 108-year history with 1,714 total students, reflecting an 8% increase over Fall 2019, and an 84% undergraduate retention rate (3% higher than the five-year average). The total graduate enrollment exhibits the highest graduate enrollment in University history, up by 22% from last year. With the worldwide health crisis altering the typical higher education experience at many colleges, ETBU’s enrollment is the result of University leadership’s commitment to providing an in-person, Christ-centered educational experience, and these record-breaking numbers are a reflection of East Texas Baptist’s current collegiate students’ desire to have the traditional college experience offered on-campus at ETBU.

“ETBU’s success is attributed to the faculty and staff’s commitment to living out the University’s mission to provide a Christ-centered education,” Vice President for Admissions Jeremy Johnston said. “The admissions team went above and beyond by looking at the processes that made us successful in the past, and finding ways to adapt those processes for the virtual experience. The faculty, under Dr. Sanders’ leadership, embraced the challenge of remote advising and turned this into an opportunity to enroll more students. Faculty and staff worked tirelessly to ensure that students were registered for classes, received all the information necessary for their journey in becoming a new Tiger, and still had the personal experience that makes ETBU special. ETBU’s success is the result of faithful men and women not allowing the circumstances of the pandemic to hinder them from being faithful in obeying God’s call of shaping students called by Him to the Hill.”

As a record number of new and returning Tigers attend classes on campus this fall, the ETBU Physical Operations Department is conducting extensive cleaning procedures for the entire campus. In addition, the University opened the new Sisk Health Services Clinic under the leadership of a full-time nurse practitioner to offer services that address minor illnesses, injuries, screenings, vaccinations, injections, and other basic services. East Texas Baptist University made many decisions and changes to the University’s health and safety policies and procedures over the summer to allow for as safe and healthy in-person learning as possible for the Fall 2020 semester.

“2020 is a milestone year in the life of East Texas Baptist,” ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said. “No doubt, we will reflect on this time in our lives, marking the tragedies and trials we have confronted as a nation. Despite the pain, the anguish, the anxiety we have encountered in America, the people of God can rejoice as believers in a Savior and Lord, who reigns and redeems for His glory. This August 2020, we give praise and thanksgiving to God for bringing our students home to the Hill, uniting our campus community in love, and advancing the Kingdom mission of our University. We celebrate the provision of a resilient and dedicated faculty and staff, faithful donors, supportive alumni, and strong enrollment in the midst of the global pandemic.”

East Texas Baptist’s Institutional Technology and Media Services staff installed two types of cameras to facilitate Zoom capabilities, allowing for alternating 50% in-class instruction in every classroom. In smaller classrooms, a fixed camera is mounted to the ceiling to capture the front of the room, screen, and whiteboard.  In larger rooms, there are cameras that follow the faculty member in instruction. Should the need arise, the University is equipped to deliver uninterrupted remote learning at a moment’s notice.

“Having the opportunity to be physically present on campus allows me to be engaged and fully alert in class, soaking up all the knowledge I can, and gives me the chance to share the good news of the Gospel with those around me,” freshman psychology major Erin Berry of Tyler said. “When I toured campus, it truly felt like home, and I was drawn to the way the light of Jesus resonates on the Hill in everything. Praise the Lord for the blessing to come together on campus during COVID-19 and keep finding the goodness of Him in every aspect of our daily lives.”

As the University sees more students interested in pursuing higher education on the Hill, East Texas Baptist has searched for ways to expand and meet the needs of its growing Tiger population. Now available at a reduced tuition rate, ETBU offers seven completely online graduate programs in fields ranging from Christian Ministry to Kinesiology. For graduate students seeking an in-person educational experience, the University offers four additional programs, including School Counseling and Strategic Communication. In addition to offering classes online and on campus in Marshall, the University is opening a community mental health clinic that will house ETBU’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, located at the new ETBU-Tyler campus, 1301 S. Broadway in Tyler. The Community Counseling Center will open later this fall, and Clinical Mental Health Counseling classes begin at the Tyler location beginning in January 2021.

With academic program expansion comes the need for updated academic spaces on campus. At the start of the Fall 2020 semester, Craig Hall, one of ETBU’s landmark buildings, was transformed into a state-of-the-art learning facility and is now home to one of the University’s largest schools of study, The Frank S. Groner School of Professional Studies. Recently announced, the J.E. and L. E. Mabee Foundation awarded ETBU a challenge grant in the amount of $1,500,000 towards the construction of the momentous project, the Great Commission Center, and the future home for ETBU's Fred Hale School of Business.

“In my 25 years of serving here on the Hill, this is the best I have ever seen the University,” Dean of the School of Christian Studies Dr. John Harris said. “Although there are many events and obstacles occurring on the peripheral, there is a renewed electricity, excitement, and camaraderie on campus that I have never seen before. While across the nation, we hear about anxiety and fear, here within our community of faculty, staff, and students, morale is high, and we have a chance to be a shining light of hope to the world. Record enrollment in a pandemic is unheard of. Our administration’s foresight to prepare and their commitment to follow through with upholding our calling to provide an on-campus, Christ-centered educational experience makes me feel excited and proud to be an ETBU Tiger. ETBU is united in one purpose, united in Christ, and united in goal. I am blessed to play my part as a faculty member.”