DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s total enrollment this fall is down about 1,120 students from a year ago, but university officials say they are encouraged by a large freshman class and high-quality incoming students.
Enrollment on Friday – the 10th day of classes – totaled 21,869 students, compared with 22,990 in fall 2011, which represents a 4.9 percent decrease.
President John Peters said Wednesday that the figures weren’t that surprising, and that a few key factors caused the decline. One of those factors was last year’s large number of graduates. Of the 5,700 degrees awarded last year, Peters said about 4,000 of them were bachelor’s degrees that were given mainly to students from a large 2008 freshman class.
Following the large 2008 class of incoming freshmen were several smaller freshman classes, and partly for that reason, Peters said a drop in enrollment was expected this year.
But this year’s freshman class grew by 74 students compared with last year’s freshman class.
Another reason for the decline was a 10 percent drop in transfer student admissions. This year, NIU recruited 1,913 transfer students, compared with the 2,134 transfer students who attended in fall 2011.
“It gives us cause for concern,” Peters said. “I’m pleased about the freshman enrollment, but not pleased about the transfer enrollment. This in no way causes me great concern. … We have a goal that we set in Vision 2020 that’s ambitious. That’s a long way off.”
The Vision 2020 initiative launched in 2010 aims to make the school the premier student-centered public research university in the Midwest. It also aims for a total enrollment of 30,000 students, more than doubling the number of incoming freshmen in the top 10 percent of their class by that year and providing more merit-based scholarships.
Kelly Wesener-Michael, acting vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, said she was not only pleased with this year’s freshman enrollment, but also with the quality of the class in terms of average grade-point average and class rank.
The University Honors Program captured 226 new freshman this year – the largest incoming class since 1987. Additionally, the number of NIU freshmen who ranked in the top 10 percent of their class rose from 8.9 percent last year to 11 percent this year.
NIU freshmen who graduated in the top 25 percent of their high-school class also grew from 29.4 percent to 32.7 percent. The mean GPA of the incoming freshman class also increased compared to last year’s class, going from a mean 3.06 GPA to a mean 3.11 GPA.
“Certainly we always strive to make sure we retain them,” Wesener-Michael said.
Peters said NIU has a good product to sell with a great faculty, improved campus, new residence hall and many opportunities for engaged learning. Wesener-Michael said NIU also has a lot of programs in place to help with retention rates, such as tutoring and making sure they’re engaged with the university.
“We have to keep more of the students that are here,” he said. “… There’s still much to be done, but I’m really happy about the quality [of students]. I like our students an awful lot and I like our plans. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I’m really optimistic about it.”