It's an exciting time to be a Bear.
Lenoir-Rhyne University is undergoing transformations both physical and philosophical, which are recognized by the community and prospective students as the largest cohort of graduate students in university history has enrolled for the 2020-21 academic term.
"People were looking for ways to be in positions that are essential or to find jobs that make them happy," said Dr. Amy Wood, assistant provost and dean of graduate and adult education at LR. "And the data shows that people with a graduate degree are more likely to have higher earnings, more likely to be employed and more likely to have job satisfaction."
While the coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of universities experience enrollment declines, Lenoir-Rhyne has thrived. The Graduate School officially enrolled 903 students for the current term, which is up from 100 a little more than a decade ago.
"The big difference has certainly been the diversification of programming," said Dr. Michael Dempsey, dean and director of the Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. "We've had counseling and nursing programs for a long time, but we've offered a lot more programs since then."
In addition to nursing and counseling, LR has added graduate programs in leadership, teaching, sustainability studies, narrative health care, exercise science, public health and more numbering 25 total.
Two significant boosts to that occurred in 2012 when Lenoir-Rhyne merged with Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and began offering programs at the Columbia, South Carolina, location. That same year, LR opened the Center for Graduate Studies offering programs at the Asheville, North Carolina, location.
"We've been thoughtful in what we've created and where," Wood said. "We've tried to respond to our strengths as an institution and also to what the community need seems to be."
The university also launched The Graduate School in 2019, which seeks to improve the student experience and meet the needs of students through scholarship and research.
"There are unique challenges to being a grad student," Wood said. "Some come right from undergrad, but some are adult learners coming back to school. Our graduate student population is diverse in terms of where they are in their professional life. We want to make sure we have a structure in place to support their needs."
With new programs offered in the last decade, LR's capacity to meet the needs of community members has grown, and the impact of a Lenoir-Rhyne education is more widely known.
For instance, the graduate counseling program increased from 90 students to 120 in the last year alone.
"That is due to having outstanding faculty in those programs," Dempsey said. "The reputation of the program is outstanding. When people want to become a trained counselor, they know Lenoir-Rhyne is a great place to come to and has an excellent reputation."