Freshmen flock to Eastern Illinois

Charleston university sees 25 percent increase in freshman enrollment, 7 percent overall, as state unveils college website

 Old Main is the signature building at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. (Wikimedia Commons/Jud McCranie)

Old Main is the signature building at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. (Wikimedia Commons/Jud McCranie)

By Ted Cox

Eastern Illinois University is claiming a 25 percent jump in freshman enrollment this fall.

That led to a 7 percent increase in overall enrollment to 7,526 students, according to 10th-day figures released this week by the Charleston university. It was the first time in a decade fall enrollment increased at EIU. That built on the momentum of a 5 percent increase in EIU enrollment recorded in the spring semester.

"We knew for some time we would see a tremendous increase in our first-time freshmen enrollment this fall,” said Josh Norman, EIU’s associate vice president of enrollment management.  “We anticipated growth in other key areas as well, which we’re pleased our official 10th-day numbers have confirmed."

Norman credited increases in online, undergraduate transfer, graduate student, and dual-credit enrollments. EIU also added a dozen new programs in the spring and seven more this fall.

Undergrads increased from 5,568 students to 6,012 — with a reported increase in 155 for freshmen — graduate students from 1,462 to 1,514, the highest figure in eight years. EIU also claimed a record high with international students from 52 separate countries.

It set a standard for other public universities to follow. Southern Illinois University reported declining enrollments this week, with the Edwardsville campus surpassing the flagship Carbondale campus.

EIU touted an aggressive admissions and marketing campaign in the wake of two-year state budget impasse that damaged all state universities, some more than others.

"That was an unprecedented situation, and one our state must never face again,” said EIU President David Glassman. “Our local legislators were critical in ending the impasse, so I thank them again for that. And we certainly appreciate the recent efforts of the governor and state legislature to enact predictable and timely support, which will continue to go a long way toward rebuilding public confidence in Illinois higher education."

Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to undo some of the damage this week by unveiling a new state website showing comparisons by college statewide on tuition, student debt, and earning potential by profession.

The Illinois College2Career site allows prospective students to search colleges and universities statewide given the profession they intend to pursue.

Rauner called it "groundbreaking" and touted it as a tool to keep Illinois students from abandoning the state for college, although many would no doubt challenge the governor's assertion that "education has been my top investment priority for many years."

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"Education has been my top investment priority for many years."

Gov. Bruce Rauner (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State university funding was cut if not curtailed entirely during the two years Rauner couldn't agree on a budget with the General Assembly. He also vetoed a radical revision of the state's school education funding formula until a $75 million tax-credit scholarship program for private schools was added to it.

Tom Cross, the former state House minority leader appointed by Rauner to head the state Board of Higher Education, said the new site would help retain Illinois's most promising students. "The fact that the tool is Illinois-centric and highlights many of the positive things colleges are doing in preparing the future of the Illinois workforce is fantastic,” Cross said. “The companion tool that was developed specifically for the colleges and universities should also be lauded, as schools will be able to use it to drive decision-making and to better align their program offerings with workforce demand."

Glassman emphasized that EIU was ahead of the state in spurring a revival and its approach is already showing results. "Our students, their families, and our community partners understand and appreciate the quality and value of the Eastern Illinois University experience," he said. "Such a considerable increase to EIU’s freshmen enrollment speaks to EIU’s excellent reputation, as well as to the profound talent and collaboration of our entire EIU team in realizing this remarkable achievement."

Other state universities are expected to release fall enrollment figures next week.