FREMONT — Midland University is looking for innovative ways to boost enrollment, including offering scholarships for activities such as shotgun sports, powerlifting and esports.

The university is recruiting students with scholarships in 32 competitive activities, which administrators have said is the largest number of varsity activities offered by any Nebraska college.

Sophomore Joe Peña was recruited to Midland as a super-heavyweight powerlifter and now he's studying nursing. He said that Midland is a rare college that offers scholarships to powerlifters.

Midland's president, Jody Horner, said the school has nearly reached the limit of sports scholarships it can offer.

"We're getting close to the limit," she said. "I'm not saying I won't sneak one or two more in."

Midland is preparing several other partnerships and initiatives, including plans to give each student an iPad and an Apple Pencil next fall. The college also has a contract with the Fremont Family YMCA to offer automatic membership to every full-time student.

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Horner's recruitment approach is to be "relentlessly relevant" to today's students, she said. The university's enrollment has grown from 650 in 2009 to nearly 1,400 in 2018.

"Standing still is not an option in the industry today," said Horner, adding that she wants her administrators to take risks and not be afraid of failure.

Both public and private colleges across the U.S. are becoming more creative in student recruitment efforts, but private colleges like Midland have more leeway to take risks because they don't rely on taxpayer funds, according to Thomas Harnisch of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Midland administrators said they've received little, if any, criticism for their creative approach to recruiting students.

The university's growth has helped its fundraising campaign reach its $30 million goal a year early. Midland has since raised the goal to $50 million by 2020 to go toward academic programs, scholarships, operations and facilities, said Jessica Janssen, vice president for institutional advancement.

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