Enrollment: Fewer students, increased first-year retention


The Holmes Student Center stands beyond the Balance of Equality statue on a chilly winter day in MLK Commons. The 4.2% decrease in graduate enrollment between spring 2023 and spring 2024 is negatively impactful. (Northern Star File Photo)

By Bridgette Fox and Evan Mellon

DeKALB – Data released by NIU shows enrollment numbers have continued to drop, but the amount of students staying for another semester has increased.


Spring 2023 total enrollment hosts 14,364 students, 237 fewer students than the previous spring. NIU has had a continuous downtrend in enrollment in recent years, which the university attributes to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, NIU’s goals of boosting retention rates seem to be bearing fruit.

In Fall 2022, 2,100 first-years attending NIU had re-enrolled for Spring 2023 – meaning 274 more first-years continued to study at NIU after winter break than they did in the 2021-2022 academic year, according to NIU enrollment data.

Full-time first-year students have a re-enrollment rate of 88.3%, a 3% increase from last year and a 6% from the year before the pandemic.

“That’s (retention rate) … even a little bit better than the year prior … to COVID,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram. “They’re about comparable – but really, we’ve returned to pre-COVID rates of retention.”

The percentage of undergraduate students who have re-enrolled for Spring 2023 has increased, although the corresponding number of students enrolled has decreased, according to NIU enrollment data.

Continuing undergraduates have seen a drop of 143 students who have re-enrolled compared to last academic year, while the overall percentage has increased by 1.5%. Similarly, new transfer students’ re-enrollment saw a drop of 189 students compared to last academic year, but an increase of 2.1%.

“I’m really pleased with the numbers that we saw this spring,” Ingram said. “We put a lot of time and effort into working with students last fall to meet them where they were, to help address any concerns that they may have – to ensure that they could stay enrolled at NIU.”