By REX BARBER
Johnson City Press
MILLIGAN COLLEGE — The largest freshman class to enter Milligan College in 40 years began studies this fall.
The school reported a record enrollment of 1,102 students Monday, an increase of about 76 from fall 2008, said Milligan President Don Jeanes. That is no small achievement for a private school, especially in the worst economy.
“For the past three years we’ve had record enrollments,” Jeanes said. “We were really pleased with that, because in the economy which we all find ourselves we weren’t sure if students would come to a private college because of the cost.”
For current Milligan students, the annual tuition is $19,950. But 96 percent of the student body gets financial aid through various grants and academic and athletic scholarships. Despite the cost, Milligan seems to be thriving in an economic recession.
Jeanes said private colleges and public colleges face similar challenges. Those challenges are viewed from different perspectives, though.
“For us fundraising is a challenge,” Jeanes said. “We do it with businesses and individuals, but the public schools have to work with the state legislatures. We don’t get any funding as an institution from the state or the federal government.”
Students do get federal aid if they qualify, as does any student in Tennessee.
“The other challenge is probably convincing prospective students and parents of those students that private college education is worth the difference in cost,” Jeanes said. “Obviously it costs more to go to Milligan than it does a public university or community college in Tennessee. And so we have to do a good sales job to show that there is value added in coming to Milligan College.
“We think one of the values is our focus on Christian values and trying to help students to grow not only academically, intellectually, but spiritually.”
The last time Milligan had as large an influx of students as it had this year was in the fall of 1969. At that time a military draft was in effect and draftees could defer service through college enrollment. Many potential draftees became college-bound to avoid service in Vietnam. Jeanes thought that was one reason for Milligan’s increase in students in the late ‘60s.
Now, though, new academic programs in nursing and health sciences, new athletic programs like swimming and women’s golf and a focus on retention are what contributes to Milligan’s growth, Jeanes said.
Donors help with growth, too. The new Gilliam Wellness Center, made possible by a gift to the college, should be completed by winter 2010. It is for general student use, not just athletes.
The school’s relatively new nursing program has grown significantly, also, Jeanes said. That is partly due to the projected need for nurses as the retirees increase in number.
But Milligan has stringent guidelines for acceptance. ACT scores, high school GPAs and personal references are all considered when a student applies for admission.
“We want to make sure that students are a fit for us, because we are a Christian liberal arts college,” Jeanes said, adding the school was recently ranked in the top 10 best baccalaureate colleges in the Southeast by U.S. News & World Report.
The average ACT score for this year’s entering class was 23, Jeanes said. This freshmen class’ average high school GPA was 3.6.
“We reach a broad spectrum of students,” Jeanes said. “Half our students probably come from Tennessee, but the other half probably come from about 35 different states and countries. So we do have a lot of diversity here.”