The story behind Eastern's 52% enrollment growth over the last 2 years
It's no secret that enrollment in higher education has dropped across the country. Initiated by changes in the economy and accelerated by a disruptive pandemic, colleges nationwide have been experiencing disappointing declines.
This makes it all the more shocking that Eastern University has experienced a 52% increase in total enrollment over the last two years. From Spring 2020 to Spring 2022, we’ve grown as a university from 3,174 to 4,815 students.
So, what’s the secret? While many programs at Eastern have experienced growth over the last several years, the biggest increase has come from Eastern’s innovative new LifeFlex™ graduate programs, which feature fully online, flexibly-paced modalities with radically inexpensive price tags. For example, Eastern’s new MBA and MS in Data Science cost only $9,900 and can be completed in as little as 10 months.
I sat down with Provost Kent Sparks to reflect on the staggering growth of the last few years and what he sees ahead in Eastern’s future.
Q&A Interview with: Provost Kent Sparks
Where did the idea for the LifeFlex™ programs come from?
KS: I’m one of those life-long learners, and I was personally interested in a new graduate program. I started looking around, and it really got me thinking about how someone already launched in life just isn’t looking to spend $40K on another degree. I started wondering, What if we could design a program that people could conceive of paying for out of pocket? I was trying to find the true win-win by focusing on what students need.
How does the LifeFlex™ approach align with Eastern’s mission and values?
KS: Eastern has always been intentional about incorporating our Christian faith into the content of our courses. But we really started thinking about what it would look like to also incorporate our faith-based values into the delivery and the price. We wanted to be as smart as possible with our students’ money, so we started dreaming about what it would take to offer people a graduate program that they wouldn’t have to go into debt for. The LifeFlex™ model allows adult students to work at their own pace, around their busy schedules. It allows them to achieve their dreams in an affordable, manageable way.
Were you surprised by the programs’ success?
KS: I always felt confident that the LifeFlex™ model would be popular, but I had no idea how fast it would grow. In the first term we offered the MS in Data Science, we had 92 students enroll, quickly followed by 100 more students at our next start term seven weeks later. Since then, the numbers have continued to climb. Over 2,000 students have enrolled in our LifeFlex™ programs so far.
One of Eastern’s new core values is “innovation.” Why do you think innovation is so important?
KS: In the 80’s I worked for IBM during the peak of its success. At that time, personal computers were on the rise, but IBM just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that people were going to switch so dramatically from large computer systems to personal computers. As is well known, the company and its employees suffered because they were unable to quickly innovate. We serve a creative God who has placed creativity in each of us. I think that innovation is simply about coming up with new solutions for the needs of new generations. When we do this, we serve people well.
What’s next on the horizon in terms of innovative programming for Eastern?
KS: We’re hoping to launch a new series of adult undergraduate LifeFlex™ programs in order to reach students who want an associate or bachelor’s degree in a flexible format for an affordable price. While many undergraduate students will continue to choose our traditional on-campus experience, there is a large population of working adults for whom adaptable, flexible learning will open up a world of possibilities. It’s an exciting time to be at Eastern, and I can’t say thank you enough to all of the faculty and staff members who have worked together to make this exciting growth possible.