The beginning of the spring semester is always an exciting time at Welch College, and right now is no exception. Of course it’s anything but spring. It’s been bitterly cold and gray outside. But the community of faith and learning that is Welch College is abuzz with excitement. We’re back from Christmas break, settled in, and everyone has gotten back to the books and back to work.
There are more students on the Welch campus than there were this time last year—around 24% more in the dorms (about the same increase as this past fall). This of course is creating excitement, because the student population has experienced a major uptick for the first time since 2008 when the Great Recession hit.
The momentum we’re experiencing in numbers this year follows a momentum we’ve been experiencing in the past few years in terms of mission, quality, and excellence. Let me give you a few examples.
A higher percentage of students who are investing themselves in ministry, missions, and lay leadership in local churches are attending Welch. There is an increase in commitment level in classes, chapel, and Christian service assignments. There is an increasing attitude of ministry and service. More of our young men are answering the call to preach, with around half the men in Goen Hall (our men’s dormitory) being preachers.
The societies are experiencing a revitalization of interest among students. Student government has been reinvigorated. Our choir and Rejoice ensemble are larger. These groups, along with the Evangels drama team and our new Men’s Quartet, are receiving rave reviews and are in heavy demand by churches.
The ACT scores of incoming students are climbing. Freshman-to-sophomore retention has increased to much higher levels than most small Christian colleges. The percentage of freshmen going on to degree completion is on the rise. Scores on our exit exams have increased in comparison with other colleges and universities.
We’re now ranked as one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges,” ranking alongside much larger schools that have fifteen and twenty times our endowment (and one of only a handful of schools in the Bible college movement to be ranked). For the first time, in 2012 we were named a certified “Best Christian Workplace.” The college received this accolade from Best Christian Workplaces of America again this year.
For the first time, three years ago Welch sent a delegation to the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, a mock student legislature that voted Welch student Frank Thornsbury best senator the first year and winner of the Carlisle Award, the top award in the legislature, the second year. The Tennessee legislature even voted on a religious liberty bill advanced by this group of students. Noel-Levitz student satisfaction surveys continue to show increased student satisfaction with their experience at Welch College.
I believe one of the reasons for these gains in excellence, quality, and mission is our mentorship model of Christian higher education: Fresh young faculty are joining seasoned veterans in seeing the teaching and learning process at Welch as not just taking classes and getting grades. They’re seeing it as mentoring—as spiritual formation in the context of an academic community. So this means that the intellect, the heart, and the character are being mentored and shaped and formed through a Christ-centered model of teaching and learning.
When I hear our students talking about the conversations they’re having outside of class with faculty members—often about the books they’re reading that aren’t required—it makes my heart leap for joy. Recently I had a young man come to my office. His academic background in high school left something to be desired. He hadn’t had the best of chances for spiritual growth as a child. But he came to my office and was talking about reading John Owen’s book The Mortification of Sin with one of his professors. He was talking about how his eyes were being opened to so many things, and how he felt himself maturing spiritually and emotionally and intellectually.
I’ve had this same conversation (different profs, different books) with dozens of our students. They’re excited about the opportunities for growth they’re receiving at Welch College—spiritual, intellectual, personal, and professional—and they don’t take it for granted.
It’s our faculty that make this possible. And it’s our churches and college supporters that make it possible for our faculty to do the work they do. As you finish reading this post, I ask you to say a prayer for us—that God will continue the work He is doing on our campus, that the momentum of kingdom-centered mission, quality, and excellence will continue to flourish in this Christian community of faith and learning.