South Florida Bible College Grows With Strong Word-of-mouth (and a Little Help From Populi)

South Florida Bible College Campus

Situated in Deerfield Beach, Florida, SFBC opened in 1985 under the umbrella—and in the spare classrooms—of a local church. For its first 25 years, it slowly and organically grew from 20 to around 80 students, outgrowing the classrooms and moving into a somewhat larger storefront location. But enrollment accelerated, tipping over 100 around 2010; by 2017 the storefront was bursting at the seams as nearly 400 students jostled for desks in classrooms that doubled as offices and conference rooms. The growing college next moved into a 50,000-square-foot building that had once housed a call center, a move that accommodated the school’s next burst of growth to more than 600 students in 2019.

How’d it grow so much? Vice President of Academics Josiah Stephan attributes the school’s success primarily to strong word of mouth. Of the leads who contact the school via referral from current or previous students, more than a third end up applying and enrolling. Degree offerings have expanded as well. The school offers five Associates’ degrees, six Bachelors’, five Masters’, a Doctorate, and a postsecondary English Preparation certificate. The English program has proved a boon to SFBC, providing college-level English language instruction to hundreds of students a year, many drawn from the sizeable immigrant population in and around Deerfield Beach.

SFBC signed up with Populi in 2012 not long before it received accreditation from the Association of Biblical Higher Education—and just as the growth in student numbers was really kicking into gear. Previous to Populi, the college cobbled an older, desktop-based SIS together with gap-filling software like Word and Excel. “We got Populi to help with registrar functions,” Stephan recalls. “I set it up myself in two to three weeks. And then we found it could do so much more.”

For instance, Populi improved the quality of admissions data they could now record and consult. One of Stephan’s jobs is to compile a year’s worth of admissions data into an executive report for dissemination to the president and other board members, people who might not necessarily look at all the individual data points in Populi. Using the Funnel Report as a backbone, he adds detailed information about lead sources, declined reasons, and admissions representatives to get the best look at the 5,000 leads SFBC speaks with from January to December. “As long as the data gets put in, it’s so easy to get it out,” he says, reflecting on the importance of school-wide buy-in. With so many people inputting information, his job is a lot easier. “If the lead source is put in, boom, everything else is taken care of from there. Populi is way more helpful than any other admissions software we had in the past.”

The growing student body also found something to appreciate in Populi, especially after SFBC started venturing into online education in 2015. Most online learning at the college is either blended with on-campus coursework, and students appreciated the ease of having one simple-to-learn system for both types of instruction. “There’s one LMS on- and off-campus,” Stephan remarked, “so navigating an online course is just like a campus course.”

Despite the challenges attendant to growing from 100 to 600 students in under ten years, Stephan doesn’t mention technology problems among them. SFBC now uses Populi to handle academics, admissions, classrooms, student billing, financial aid, and donations. With staff and faculty bought in, sharing information among different offices is “seamless”. “Populi was not the reason for the growth, but it makes growth possible. Without it, we couldn’t have handled the growth.”