St. Mary's University College has become the post-secondary institution of choice for a growing number of Alberta Catholics.
The independent Catholic liberal arts university in Calgary, which has seen its numbers grow steadily for the past six years, registered a 17 per cent increase in enrollment this year.
That has college officials smiling.
"It's very exciting," says college president Dr. Gerry Turcotte. "It's a good news story in the current climate."
As well as growing support from students, "we are also finding great support from business and donors who recognize the importance of a traditional liberal arts and sciences degree for students going into the marketplace," Turcotte said.
St. Mary's offers six bachelor of arts degrees, a bachelor of education after degree and transferable university courses in 34 academic disciplines.
"I think that this year's growth indicates that an increasing number of students see St. Mary's as their first choice for post-secondary education," says Dr. Mark Charlton, vice president academic and dean at St. Mary's.
"The fact that we could guarantee a space for them at a time of uncertainty across the post-secondary system reassured many students that they had made the right decision."
A big part of the attraction to St. Mary's is word of mouth, Turcotte said.
"Over 40 per cent of the students that come here say the reason they are here is because they heard great things from friends, parents and students that have studied here," he said.
"The one thing that is common to all our students when we survey them is that sense of satisfaction that they really are treated as individuals when they are here. They are not just a number."
St. Mary's is a small university community with about 800 students, most of whom are studying arts and sciences.
"We maintain small class sizes so students never get lost as they would in a big place; they are always the centre of attention and I think people really find that a meaningful learning experience," Turcotte pointed out.
While many universities are examining the number of programs they are able to offer, St. Mary's recently introduced two new degrees: a bachelor of arts with a major in psychology and a bachelor of arts with a major in liberal studies, the first of its kind in Alberta.
It also offers a bachelor of education program which this year has a record 50 students.