ISU, EIU see influx of freshmen

Illinois State registers largest incoming class since mid-’80s

Illinois State University enrollment climbed this fall, driven by the largest freshman class since 1986. (Wikimedia Commons/ParentingPatch)

Illinois State University enrollment climbed this fall, driven by the largest freshman class since 1986. (Wikimedia Commons/ParentingPatch)

By Ted Cox

The state’s public universities appear to be on the upswing after weathering the two-year budget impasse of former Gov. Rauner.

Illinois State University, which is actually the state’s original public university, founded in 1857, reported an increase in fall enrollment this week, driven by the largest freshman class in 33 years.

Eastern Illinois University in Charleston reported its second straight increase in freshmen enrollment, resulting in a 10 percent increase in freshmen and sophomores taking classes from last year.

That news comes after Southern Illinois University Carbondale released figures earlier this week showing that it has slowed its enrollment decline. SIU Edwardsville followed with an announcement that its enrollment had remained stable this fall, buoyed by an increase of 650 graduate and professional students over last year.

Western Illinois University in Macomb, however, registered another 10 percent drop in enrollment to fall below 8,000 students.

The University of Illinois System, the state’s flagship with campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield, should be releasing its fall head count next week, along with Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

The big news this week, however, came out of Bloomington-Normal, where ISU posted a 1.2 percent increase in overall enrollment. After just barely clearing 20,000 students last year, it registered 20,878 this year, driven by a freshman class of 3,860, the highest number of incoming students since the mid-’80s. That built on last year’s 10 percent increase in freshman enrollment to 3,689.

“This year’s historically large freshman class is part of the continuing trend of strong enrollment at Illinois State University,” said President Larry Dietz in a statement as part of a news release on fall enrollment. “That is proof that students recognize the high quality of educational, growth, and leadership opportunities the university offers. Once they arrive on campus, students achieve real success, as evidenced by Illinois State’s high student retention and graduation rates.”

The university registered 18,250 undergraduates and 2,628 graduate students, with transfers at 1,869.

“This fall’s enrollment figures reflect more than just an increase in the number of students on campus,” said Jana Albrecht, associate vice president of Enrollment Management. “They show an increasingly diverse and academically talented student body at Illinois State. These students are poised for success in a welcoming and supportive campus environment that will challenge them to be their best.”

Almost a third of the incoming freshmen, 32 percent, came from minority groups, with ISU posting a 3 percent increase in African-American freshmen and a 6 percent increase in Hispanics. The number of international students — which the university made a recruiting priority before last year — increased 8 percent to 558.

Incoming freshmen posted a high-school grade-point average of 3.48 on a 4.0 scale, an average ACT score just under 24, and an average SAT score of 1121. The 441 freshmen enrolled in the honors program set a school record.

EIU also managed to build on an increase in incoming freshmen last year, when it saw the freshman class grow 25 percent from the year before. This year’s freshman increase was half that, 12.5 percent, but the increase from 789 last year to 888 this year helped lift overall enrollment in Charleston 3.7 percent to 7,806. The 10 percent increase in total freshmen and sophomores on campus was complemented by a 4.2 percent increase in graduate students to top 1,500.

Eastern Illinois University built on last year’s 25 percent increase in freshmen. (Wikimedia Commons/Jud McCranie)

Eastern Illinois University built on last year’s 25 percent increase in freshmen. (Wikimedia Commons/Jud McCranie)

Josh Norman, associate vice president of Enrollment Management, credited the gains to the university’s intense recruitment in eastern Illinois and other rural areas.

“Once again, our freshman enrollment numbers have been phenomenal,” Norman stated in a news release. “We’ve seen an unprecedented 48 percent increase in first-time freshmen who live within a 60-mile radius of campus. Clearly, EIU is reinforcing its reputation as a first-choice option for higher education in Illinois, and doing its part to keep Illinois’s best and brightest students right here in their home state.”

SIU Edwardsville actually posted a slight 1.6 percent decline in overall enrollment at 13,061, but that nevertheless enabled it to build on its advantage over the SIUC campus, which it passed last year. New students and transfers were both down slightly, but SIUE did set a record with 1,778 enrolled in its School of Nursing, and the 79 percent retention rate from last year’s freshman class also set a record.

“We recognize the challenging marketplace for prospective students for both traditional freshmen and transfers, and continue to develop initiatives to enhance enrollment growth in the future,” said SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook. “We strategically seek to implement innovative academic programming, creating flexibility for students who have academic interests spanning disciplines that will be popular with both traditional and non-traditional students. Meanwhile, our online offerings continue to grow.”

Like SIUC, WIU saw hope in slowing the decline in enrollment, although it didn’t register quite as much progress on that front. Overall enrollement dropped from 8,502 last year to 7,624 this fall.

“While this fall's total new student enrollment has not decreased as dramatically as the last few years, I'm still disappointed in the size of the decline this fall,” said acting President Martin Abraham. “We must — and we will — stop this trend. Western is a phenomenal school, with outstanding academic programs and extracurricular opportunities, along with great faculty and staff, all at a terrific value.

"We cannot change what has occurred the past few years,” he added. “What we can do is to get better and do better, and we will. Our students deserve that. The residents of Illinois deserve that.

"Our attention is on spring and fall 2020, and it's going to take everyone doing his or her part. … Our goal is to have a larger incoming class next fall, and even larger by fall 2021. It's a tough goal, but I'm confident we will get this done.”

The state’s public universities suffered during the two-year budget impasse imposed by former Gov. Rauner, which saw funding slashed to the schools if not cut entirely. Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly boosted funding for the state’s public universities in the balanced budget passed this year.