By Richard Burnett
Against the pandemic odds, Beacon College’s Class of 2021 represents the largest graduating class in the school’s history — a notable milestone as the COVID-19 crisis has caused graduation rates to languish at many universities across America.
Beacon will confer degrees to 116 graduates at October’s commencement, a 33% increase from 2020 and double the graduating class of only four years ago, according to figures from the college’s Data Collection & Reporting Office.
By contrast, the number of college graduates nationwide grew only 1.14% in 2021, totaling less than 4.1 million, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
“Many large universities have been hit much harder by student attrition during the pandemic,” said Beacon Provost Dr. Shelly Chandler. “But that has not happened in our market. And we’re very thankful for that.”
Chandler credited Beacon’s faculty, which did an extraordinary job keeping students engaged through in-person and virtual instruction. It was especially challenging as the college implemented smaller classes to comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, while also making online courses available to remote students.
“To accommodate everyone, our faculty had to do both in-person and virtual work at the same time,” Chandler said. “And it was grueling for them. One moment, they’d be teaching on-camera, and the next moment, working with the live classroom.”
Everyone is hopeful that won’t be necessary in the fall, and classroom life will return to normal, she noted.
“Looking ahead, we’re constantly trying to improve the learning experience at Beacon,” Chandler said. “We gather ideas, work with the faculty, ask for external reviews, and take other actions to support the improvements. What we do know now is that we have concrete evidence that face-to-face learning works so much better than remote learning.”
Overall, Beacon’s fast-growing enrollment numbers have also contributed to the 2021 graduation milestone. Since 2012, enrollments have more than doubled to 427 students in the fall of 2020, increasing 55% since 2015 alone, according to the latest data.
Like its graduation milestone, Beacon also bucks the national trend when it comes to college enrollment during the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, Beacon’s enrollment rose 2.5% from the prior year, figures show. Nationally, however, enrollment decreased 2.5% during the same period, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Chandler said the college has experienced consistent growth in recent years, due in large part to the admissions team and its creative recruitment methods.
One of the biggest challenges the college has faced during the pandemic is preparing graduates for the distressed job market they’ll face in the recessionary economy, she said. She cited a recent survey the college conducted which indicates only 70% of Beacon graduates have found a job a year after graduating.
“Typically, our surveys show 85% of graduates find a job a year after graduation,” she said. “Of course, we’re concerned about the latest results. But we have a strong career development team and they’re working hard to figure out the market. So as the economy improves, I’m confident our numbers will bounce back up to the usual level.”