ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Despite the challenges and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Bonaventure University continued to see healthy enrollment gains this fall.

More than 500 freshmen enrolled for the fall semester, with fewer than 20 deferring their enrollment until spring or fall 2021. This is the third consecutive year the university topped 500 freshman deposits, making those the three largest freshman classes in the last 12 years.

“Team effort often gets overused, but if there was ever a year when that cliché was absolutely true, this was it,” said Dr. Dennis DePerro, university president. “Our admissions team clearly did another incredible job, but so many people across campus contributed to developing a reopening plan that students and parents could feel good about.”

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Over the last five years, SBU’s overall enrollment of 2,540 is up 26%, driven largely by a dramatic increase in graduate enrollment. The university’s growing suite of online graduate programs has caused a 116% increase in graduate enrollment, from 325 in 2015 to 701 in 2020.

Five years ago, the university had two online programs and 45 online students. Today, it has seven online programs and 567 students, who come from 43 states, the District of Colombia and Canada.

Undergraduate enrollment is up 13% over the last three years (1,597 vs. 1,804). SBU also had an 86% retention rate, the highest in the university’s history.

Acknowledgement from national publications certainly didn’t hurt recruitment efforts.

In U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 college rankings released today, St. Bonaventure is again ranked among the nation’s best college values. SBU ranks No. 3 in New York and No. 6 in the North on the list of best regional university values.

St. Bonaventure also ranked 19th out of 184 institutions on the U.S. News & World Report all-criteria ranking of Best Regional Universities in the North, the same spot it held last year.

Last month, the university was named among the Best 386 Colleges in the nation by Princeton Review.

“These rankings validate the confidence that students and their families have shown in us the last few years,” DePerro said. “As we continue to develop programs that meet market demand, and also showcase what makes the Bonaventure experience so special, I expect we’ll continue to see nice enrollment growth, even in these challenging times for higher education.”

The university will welcome its first class of graduate students into its School of Health Professions this spring when 25 physician assistant studies students come on board in January. Historic Francis Hall is being renovated to house the school’s programs, including occupational therapy, which expects to welcome its first cohort of students in fall 2021.

Programs in health science, sports media, sports management, broadcast journalism, and criminology — all launched in the last three years — have contributed to the enrollment surge. Expansion of varsity athletic rosters and the enhancement of the men’s and women’s rugby programs have also been key drivers to the enrollment uptick.

For the second year in a row, St. Bonaventure also ranked 9th in the North on the Best Colleges for Veterans list, which ranks institutions that participate in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members pay for their degrees.

The U.S. News list of regional universities in the North includes colleges that offer a full range of master’s degree programs.

The magazine determined the value ranking using three figures from 2019-20: ratio of academic quality to price, percentage of undergraduates receiving need-based aid and average discount.

Prospective students can calculate their scholarship eligibility at www.sbu.edu/calculator. Students who visit — either in person or virtually — and apply by Dec. 1 will receive $2,000 toward their Bonaventure education as part of the university’s new Visit Incentive Program.

The magazine’s annual rankings of “America’s Best Colleges” were released today. Complete rankings of nearly 1,600 schools nationwide are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in this month’s issue of U.S. News & World Report, on newsstands starting today.