Sixth straight record for U. of I. enrollment

Highest in-state freshman enrollment in a decade shows efforts to keep students home is paying off

 The Alma Mater at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is welcoming the largest number of in-state freshmen in a decade. (Twitter/Illinois_Alma)

The Alma Mater at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is welcoming the largest number of in-state freshmen in a decade. (Twitter/Illinois_Alma)

By Ted Cox

The University of Illinois posted its sixth straight year of record enrollment Wednesday, boosted by the largest influx of in-state freshmen in a decade at the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus.

For the three campuses combined, enrollment rose 2.7 percent to 85,597 in figures released Wednesday by the University of Illinois System.

Overall enrollment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rose 3.2 percent to 49,339 — the eighth straight record year. University of Illinois at Chicago enrollment rose 3.7 percent to 31,683 — the fourth straight record. Only the smaller Springfield campus suffered a decline, of 7.7 percent to 4,575.

Systemwide, the university reported its seventh straight record year for Hispanic and African-American undergraduate enrollment, with Hispanics up 8.5 percent, to 11,226, and African-Americans up 3.7 percent, to 4,041. More than one in four U. of I. undergrads are Hispanic or African-American.

“We are committed to opening our doors to more and more students, as we provide rich opportunities that transform lives and expand the pipeline of talent that drives progress for our state and nation,” said President Tim Killeen.

Killeen was especially proud of efforts to keep top students in state at Illinois’s top public university.

According to the News-Gazette in Champaign, 7,609 freshmen enrolled this fall at UIUC, breaking the record set two years ago. That included 5,847 in-state students, the largest number in a decade.

A U. of I. news release touted: “The system has made in-state recruiting a priority, seeking to stem a recent out-migration of Illinois students to colleges in other states. Studies show graduates tend to stay in the state where they studied, so the out-migration is a loss for Illinois and its economy. Illinois students comprise over 80 percent of undergraduates enrolled this fall across the system.”

Killeen credited that “the gains are rooted in ongoing efforts to promote both affordability and academic excellence. Tuition for in-state freshmen was frozen this fall for the fourth straight year, the longest consecutive freeze in more than 40 years.” He added that the university has also increased its financial-aid package from $84 million to $219 million over the last decade.

According to the News-Gazette, freshmen from rural downstate areas increased by 37.7 percent, with 87 of the state’s 102 counties represented. Quality was maintained along with the increased quantity, as the average ACT score for an incoming freshman rose from 28.5 to 28.9.

Although U. of I. proved to be the most resilient of the state’s public universities, all suffered from the two-year budget impasse under Gov. Bruce Rauner in which funding was sharply curtailed if not cut off entirely. At the same time, states like Alabama made a conscious effort to recruit Illinois students in the midst of the turmoil.

The university appears to have weathered that, thanks in part to what it calls a Strategic Framework of initiatives intended to get overall enrollment to 93,000 by 2021.

Just this week, it returned to the top 50 in the latest national college rankings from U.S. News & World Report, placing third in the state behind the University of Chicago and Northwestern.