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Overall student enrollment down at NIU

School officials cite a declining number of high school grads

DeKALB – While student enrollment for 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 student enrollment last fall, which was at 21,869 students. Student enrollment for the fall 2012 semester represented a 4.9 percent decrease from the previous year. 

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 sizable graduating class for the spring 2013 semester. 

Paul Palian, NIU director of media and public relations, said many other factors contributed to the overall decline this year, including greater competition for students 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 reason why students slip away is because they can’t afford college. Many of the students who are at the age to enter college today are first generation and may not have the financial means to attend, he said.

The university saw 2,679 new freshmen enrolled this year, which is up from 2012 when new 2,664 freshmen were enrolled. 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, which is 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. 

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. 

“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.” 

According to a Vision 2020 update presentation given 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 for the NIU community during his Nov. 13 inaugural address in the Sandburg Room at the Holmes Student Center in DeKalb. 

“We know that were not the only institution having challenges but I’m pretty optimistic where are,” Weldy said. “I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.” 

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