WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – The steady stream of Presbyterian high school students roaming around the College and Seminary Fair at the 2007 Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT) here July 17-22 brought smiles to the faces of the some two dozen admissions officers here to promote their Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related schools.
‘We are small and off the beaten track, so name recognition is so much of the battle,’ said Chris Randolph, admissions counselor at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV.
During the two days of the fair, Randolph said he talked to 40 individuals and collected 35 ‘interest cards’ from prospective students with whom to follow up.
The PC(USA) claims 64 church-related colleges and universities, said Gary Luhr, executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU). Of those 20 schools from 16 states participated in the fair, more than double those in attendance at the 2004 PYT. All 10 PC(USA)-related theological seminaries were also on hand.
‘It’s been great,’ Luhr said. ‘All of the schools have had engaging conversations with lots of students and a chance to promote their schools, and that’s what its all about.’
Caitie McMekin, a high school sophomore from Mansfield, NJ, conceded that she was visiting the fair as part of a Girl Scout project. But she was impressed. ‘All of the schools sound pretty good and there’s a good possibility I’ll attend a church-related school.’
Josiane Uwera of Cedar Rapids, IA, is in a little different position. A sophomore at two-year Kirkwood College near her home, Uwera is now looking for a four-year college at which to complete her baccalaureate degree in nursing. ‘There are some interesting choices here, but I’m still looking,’ she said.
Most students will not choose a college just because it’s church-related, Luhr said. ‘They’re looking at size, location, cost and academic offerings,’ he said, ‘but kids who come to Triennium are more apt to make church -relatedness a factor in their decision, other things being equal.’
Evan Rogers, who will be a high school senior in Owego, NY,
has visited several schools in New York state. Interested in journalism and photography, he said he finds the idea of attending a large school ‘a little intimidating.’ He hadn’t really considered a PC(USA)-related school prior to attending the fair, but said he’s now looking seriously at Carroll College in Wisconsin.
Most PC(USA)-related schools are considered small colleges – less than 2,000 students – but the admissions officers insist they offer students advantages larger schools cannot.
Gina Sharbaugh, associate director of admissions at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, said there’s been considerable interest the school’s Young Presbyterian Scholarship Program. ‘Students must be nominated by their pastor and have a 3.5 grade point average, but if they qualify they receive $15,000 per year plus a range of support and mentoring programs,’ she said.
Chris Roseland, director of church relations at Hanover College in Indiana, said one of the most frequently asked questions is the student-teacher ratio, a factor at which small colleges excel. ‘Others ask about our academic programs, our athletics and recreation opportunities. One even asked about our marching band – I had to tell her we don’t have one.’
Other prospective students are affected in their college choices by family connections. I’ve visited Tennessee Tech because my sister goes there,’ said Rachel Mellinger, a high school sophomore from York, PA. ‘But I’m also seriously considering Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska because my mom has volunteered there and I’ve visited her there and really love the facilities and environment.’
The admissions officers at the fair were surprised at how few prospects asked about cost. ‘Not as many ask about cost as probably should,’ Davis and Elkins’ Randolph said, ‘nor about admissions requirements. They just want to know what they can get from a school, academically and spiritually.’
That kind of concern for the quality of the educational experience plays into the hands of small, church-related colleges, said Devone Eurales, admissions counselor at Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL. ‘I even had one young woman ask me if I’m an alum,’ he said, ‘and when I told her yes, she asked: ‘What’s one important thing you got out of it?”
Luhr said there’s great attraction to schools where a student is a name rather than a number. ‘The appeal of PC(USA)-related schools is the assurance that they will be treated with great personal care and that these schools have a strong sense of community – graduates of our schools tend to talk about that long after they’ve completed their college careers.’