Over the course of its history, John Brown University has added numerous programs in an attempt to cater to students looking for a Christian college experience within different fields. However, adding new programs has become somewhat of a balancing act. New programs are designed to create new opportunities for prospective students and to ultimately increase enrollment. However, they also carry added costs, such as hiring new faculty. These program costs may necessitate a tuition increase, which will ultimately lower enrollment.
Ted Song, chair of the engineering, computer science and cybersecurity department, discussed the desire to increase enrollment. “Before nursing was added, many prospective students wanted to come to JBU for an education in nursing,” he says. “So, in a similar fashion, many students want to study criminal justice at a Christian college, and, when JBU didn’t have this, most people went elsewhere. We have opportunities to serve a greater population.”
However, Song also addresses the issue of tuition, saying, “Because living expenses go up each year, and that drives the tuition up, my hope and prayer is that we can go lower, not necessarily in tuition but in cost in general so that more students can come.”
Regarding a solution, Song says, “We, as a community, are looking to make our tuition as affordable as possible. When we try to add programs, we also have to find new people to run those programs. However, if you add faculty, it also creates an increase in tuition cost. So, at this point, we are exploring where we can use some of the courses from sister institutions, other Christian colleges, and see if we can use those courses to start creating new programs.” One of these strategies is already in place with the criminal justice program. Criminal justice students are required to take multiple online classes from Bluefield College, a school in West Virginia with a close proximity to federal agencies, in addition to their normal JBU classes.
One of the new programs coming to JBU in Fall 2021 is integrated marketing communications. According to JBU, “In the integrated marketing communications major, you’ll learn a unique combination of marketing, communications, graphic design and data analytics. You’ll learn how to create a cohesive message that resonates with consumers, drive effective ad campaigns and measure effectiveness.”
While new programs have the risk of raising costs associated with them, many JBU faculty members believe that it is a risk worth taking. Randall Waldron, a professor of international business, has been at the forefront of the fight for new programs, recently getting a new economics major approved by faculty.
“I think creating an economics major – in multiple formats, as a BBA degree in business and a BA/BS degree in arts and sciences – fills a hole in the JBU curriculum and helps shore up an apparent weakness in our social science offerings,” he said. “In my opinion, Christians need to be working in the social sciences vigorously as in any other disciplines, and a stronger economics program will help us train students to do that.”
This tie to faith that Waldron associates with the economics major is consistent within the mission to add new programs at JBU. Song, who has played a role in the creation of multiple JBU programs, has also cited faith as his driving force.
“I think that every college and university needs to figure out how to control cost and how we can serve our students better. Everyone wants the classes to be smaller, but in order to do that, tuition has to go up.” He continues, saying, “We want to provide Christian education to the next generation of believers so that they can go out and spread the Gospel message through their vocation. To do that, we have to work really hard so that more and more families can afford an education at JBU. You can’t accomplish that mission if the cost is too high.”
While the programs are great in theory, concerns about their effectiveness in attracting students while keeping costs consistent are very worthwhile. Yearly tuition for traditional undergraduate students has gone up almost $4000 in the past few years, while enrollment has seen a slight decrease. Even though enrollment has been affected by COVID-19, there is an obvious downturn from the high numbers of the nursing program era.
JBU has a long path ahead when it comes to its very apparent attempt at expansion.
With new programs on the way and a highly unpredictable enrollment rate, the future is full of both risk and promise. More than anything, however, many have found that this mission is fulfilling. Waldron said, “It’s a great joy to study and teach these things, with a goal of empowering JBU students to help others around the world to flourish, to come to know God and experience the fullness of His gifts to us.”
Photo by Catherine Nolte/The Threefold Advocate