Grace University, a 70-year-old Christian college in South Omaha, is adding more academic and sports programs in an effort to attract more students.
The aim of new President David Barnes is to bring the college's enrollment to 1,000 students within five years — more than double the 440 it has now.
Barnes said he is implementing strategic plans developed by college leaders before his arrival.
“So much is coming together now for Grace to take some significant steps forward,” he said. “It's time for those faithful seeds that were planted so long ago to blossom and grow.”
The new academic programs — undergraduate majors in pre-law, English and communications studies and master's degree programs for teachers and school counselors — were approved for accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association late last month.
Students can begin to enroll in those majors this coming academic year. Because of the new policy, Grace expects to add 200 new undergraduate and graduate students this fall, compared with 120 new students in fall 2012.
The college, which graduated 69 students at a ceremony Saturday, has struggled with low enrollments. It is making its expansion move at a highly competitive time in higher education.
The number of high school graduates in Nebraska is expected to decline during the next several years, at the same time that two major state campuses in Nebraska — the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha — are moving to significantly increase their enrollments.
Much of Grace's growth plan hinges on older students. Though it aims to boost undergraduate enrollment as well, Barnes said he expects a bigger share of the increase will come through students' seeking master's degrees or completing an unfinished bachelor's degree.
The new program includes an accelerated master's degree program to qualify students with previous bachelor's degrees for teaching within 16 months.
A new master's in education enables existing teachers to beef up their credentials and qualify for higher pay. A new school counseling track is an avenue for previously certified teachers to become school counselors.
Situated on a 25-acre campus at Ninth and Williams Streets, the nondenominational college was founded by a group of Mennonite pastors in 1943. Though the college continues to educate future pastors, a teacher-training program established in 1997 is now its largest program.
“Sticker price” tuition is $16,000 a year, although most students pay less than that under a program where Grace promises to match any financial aid package offered to students by an accredited four-year institution.
The college offers more than 35 undergraduate programs, ranging from accounting to vocal music, with fewer than 30 faculty members. Academic Dean John Holmes said he is in the process of hiring more faculty. He expects the total number to rise to about 33 teachers.
Spencer Plank, a 21-year-old junior from Sullivan, Ill., said he was attracted to the Christian school because of its array of academic programs and because he wanted to play basketball in college. Grace also offered him a good package of scholarships and financial aid, he said.
The college plans to add men's baseball and women's soccer to its current sports lineup of basketball and soccer for men and volleyball and basketball for women. A graduate of a private Christian high school, Plank wanted to go on to a small Christian college, but he didn't necessarily want to become a minister.
At Grace, he is studying to become a middle school teacher and coach. “I came here, and I love it,” he said.
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