Hope President Scogin Talks Enrollment, Academics, Momentum Ahead of New Year
By: Michell Boatman
Hope College is settling in for the school year. With it comes the fifth year at helm for Hope President Matthew Scogin.
On the day before the start of classes, Scogin spoke to The Sentinel about academics, enrollment and the “contagious positive momentum” around campus.
Scogin said the coming school year, which starts Tuesday, Aug. 29, is “a big year for our academics.” The college has a large group of new hires, a new core curriculum, and is building on recent gains in undergraduate research.
“We’ve got an amazing group of new faculty hires, our largest group ever of new faculty hires,” Scogin said. “We’ve made some changes to our core curriculum, called the Anchor Plan. ... We feel like we’ve got great momentum around the academic programs.
“We’re now 22 in the nation for undergraduate research; three years ago, we were 37. We’re competing with the best institutions in the country academically and we’re excited about that.”
At a time when many colleges are struggling to maintain enrollment, Hope has seen a record number of applications in back-to-back years. The school has fewer first year students than last year’s record amount, but did so intentionally to keep enrollment at a comfortable level.
“It’s a very challenging environment for higher ed right now. By my count, I think 21 Christian colleges have closed just since COVID. Thankfully we’re just in a different position” Scogin said. “I can’t point to one big thing that I could say ‘It’s this big thing that’s made the difference.’ I think it’s the combination of a lot of little things.”
Even with an increasing number of students looking to come to Hope, Scogin said there are no plans to expand the college’s enrollment band, currently 3,200 to 3,400 students. He said Hope is “right in the sweet spot” of being larger than many of its liberal arts college peers, but still “small enough to be a small institution.”
“I love the size of our college,” Scogin said. “What we present to students is the idea of being known, you come here and you’re known. For us, that means a lot more than professors knowing your name. It means our professors really get to know our students.”
One significant driver of interest in Hope comes from Hope Forward, the college’s plan to fully-fund tuition for all students. While the program is years away from full implementation, a third cohort of Hope Forward students enrolled this fall, bringing the total to around 80.
“I think Hope Forward has been a big part of that momentum,” Scogin said. “Even though Hope Forward today only impacts a very small percentage of our student body, I’ve talked to students and parents who say ‘Even though I’m not directly impacted by this idea, I want to be at a place that’s doing something innovative.’”
The program has received national attention, including from Malcolm Gladwell and Mitch Albom. Scogin said it’s “amazing” to see that attention come to the program and the college is encouraged by early results. So far, around $60 million has been raised for Hope Forward, of the around $1 billion projected needed to fully implement the initiative.
Scogin, referencing a Gallup poll from July, noted American confidence in higher education has fallen dramatically in recent years. He said reasons often include the “skyrocketing cost of tuition” and “higher ed becoming too political.”
Hope Forward addresses the first issue, Scogin said, and he hopes campus culture addresses the second.
“We’re trying to be this very intentionally Christian place, where we say we want to center ourselves around our Christian mission, but we don’t want to be political,” Scogin said. “I don’t want anyone looking at Hope and saying (it leans left or right). I only want people looking at us saying, 'They’re decidedly Christian.’ When we do that, then we can have a community full of people who lean all different ways politically.
“I don’t think you can truly call yourselves an academic institution if the answer to every question you ask falls predictably on one side of the ideological spectrum.”
Looking ahead, Scogin and Hope will aim to keep their momentum going.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum institutionally,” Scogin said. “In many ways, it’s just continuing to do what’s gotten us to this point. We’re grateful we’re in the position we’re in and feeling like whatever we’re doing is working.”