SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (WDVM) — It’s a sign of the pandemic times: a steep decline in college enrollment. But in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, Shepherd University is filling its classrooms.

It may just be because of declining birth rates. Job availability. Second-guessing the value of a college degree. As a result, higher-ed enrollment is on the decline.

But, Kelly Hart, vice president of enrollment management at Shepherd University, said, perhaps the explanation is that “this is an incredible community, and I think it’s evident that we care very deeply about our students and their success.”

Hart says the school’s generous financial aid and personal attention to students assure them that higher ed value. Julia Franks worked directly with students and said coming out of the pandemic restrictions, and students can understandably be a bit freaked out.

“Higher ed, college, can be very scary,” said Franks. “Especially in the years that we’ve been in this pandemic. It’s all very different and students often right now aren’t prepared for that sense of freedom.”

James Moore from the Charleston, West Virginia area graduates this year. Has his Shepherd education been worth it?

“Shepherd has helped me set goals – everyday goals, weekly goals, even monthly goals,” said Moore. “Basically, conquer the day and then prepare for tomorrow.”

Julia Franks said those close student-faculty relationships go long to prepare for the workforce.

“And faculty really want to help our students,” said Franks. Unfortunately, studies say that foregoing college limits employment opportunities and presents more health and social challenges. And Shepherd University continues to buck the national trend.

U.S. labor statistics say that those without a college degree are 40% more likely to be unemployed and are more likely to depend on social services than those who go on to get a higher education.