DeKALB – Although overall student enrollment at Northern Illinois University this fall is down by 731 students, the university has increased its number of freshmen and graduate students.
According to university officials, there are 21,138 students enrolled for the fall 2013 semester. The enrollment represents a 10-day count for the period that ended Monday and is a 3.3 percent decrease in enrollment from last fall's enrollment of 21,869.
It was the fourth consecutive year of overall enrollment decline for NIU, which had 24,424 students enrolled in 2009.
NIU officials attributed the overall decrease to a declining number of high school graduates in the state, a 1.7 percent decline in new transfer students and a large graduating class for the spring 2013 semester, when about 3,400 students graduated.
Paul Palian, NIU director of media and public relations, said many other factors contributed to the overall decline this year, including greater competition from for-profit colleges and out-of-state institutions, he said.
NIU wants to continue to attract students who are strong academically but also make sure resources are in place for students to succeed, said Eric Weldy, NIU vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.
One common problem with student retention is college affordability, he said. Many of the students who are of age to enter college today would be the first in their family to attend college and may not have the financial means to enroll, he said
Senior student Marquita Chatman said she wasn't surprised by the student enrollment dipping this year. Students have a hard time paying for school and some receive no help from parents, she said. Despite how expensive NIU is, she still finds it a good university to attend.
"It's a good school, but it's a little pricey," Chatman said.
Junior transfer student Israel Belmonte said students may not continue their education because they simply don't like the university or are more interested in working. This year is Belmonte's first at NIU; he says so far, he likes it.
"All my teachers have been great," he said.
NIU has seen a steady decline in state funding for the past decade, Palian said. Along with many other public universities, NIU has needed to increase tuition rates, which it did by 2 percent this year. Barring fees, and room and board charges, an in-state undergraduate student taking 15 credit hours in the fall and spring will pay about $9,071 annually.
"When you rely less and less on state support, you have to make up on money to deliver the education," Palian said.
Weldy said NIU is looking for other ways to draw funding without needing to increase tuition, such as seeking donations and alumni support. The university will need to reassess where it is at with the Vision 2020 goals and develop its enrollment management strategy, he said.
"I'm still at the point of assessing where we are," Weldy said. "I think Vision 2020 was a great start with us. But with new leadership, it's time to reassess where we are and where we would like to go."
The university saw 2,679 new freshmen enrolled this year, which is up slightly from 2012's freshman class of 2,664. There are 5,020 graduate students, up from 4,984 last year, and 304 law students, down from 333 last year. NIU enrolled 1,881 new transfer students this semester, down from 1,913 new transfer students enrolled last year.
A total of 15,814 undergraduates are enrolled this year, down from 16,552 last year.
University officials are currently carrying out campuswide initiatives to improve NIU under the Vision 2020 plan, which began in 2010. One of the benchmarks under the plan is increasing student enrollment to 30,000 and freshmen enrollment to 3,393 by 2020.
In 2011, university officials said increasing enrollment would be necessary to generate revenue to support other Vision 2020 initiatives, such as improving campus technology and infrastructure while improving the academic environment for students.
According to a Vision 2020 update presentation from last year, NIU aimed to increase student enrollment to 24,051 in 2012 while only achieving 21,869. The enrollment goal for this year was 24,411 students. By 2015, the university hopes to enroll 25,542 students.
NIU President Doug Baker is expected to lay out new strategic imperatives during his Nov. 13 inaugural address in the Sandburg Room at the Holmes Student Center in DeKalb.
"We know that we're not the only institution having challenges, but I'm pretty optimistic where we are," Weldy said. "I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done."
By the numbers…
Fall enrollment for Illinois universities between 2009-2013.
Northern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University
Western Illinois University
Eastern Illinois University:
Source: University data books, websites and news releases.