Administration plans to combat falling enrollment with branding, targeted recruitment, equity

By Noah Thornburgh

The administration responded to falling higher education enrollment in Illinois with a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, a five-year, three-goal plan laying out a timeline to bolster enrollment.

Sol Jensen, vice president of enrollment management, said the ultimate goal is to keep enrollment steady at 17,000 to 18,000 students.

In spring 2019, enrollment declined 5.5% from spring 2018, falling from 16,622 to 15,755, according to NIU data. (insert graphic)

The plan, accompanied by an Accountability Plan that details specific objectives, corresponding deadlines and point persons, is organized into three broad goals.

The Northern Star will be reporting on each goal and updating this page with links to new stories as the plan progresses.

Goal one: branding

The administration wants to create a distinct brand identity for NIU, through advertising investments. The intention is to leverage the brand to attract employees to serve as “brand ambassadors.”

Jensen said creating a reputation “starts from the inside out,” beginning with employees. The administration’s strategy is to incorporate brand identity into staff recruitment and on-boarding.

The Board of Trustees approved raising the limit on advertising spending from $2.4 million to $3 million at the June 13 meeting.

Goal two: targeted enrollment increases

The administration plans to increase the enrollment of specific demographics.

Three demographics have a target increase of 40% or more: online, Hispanic/Latinx, and domestic out-of-state students.

NIU partnered with Wiley Education Services to boost online enrollment following board approval Jan. 10.

Jensen said the university is hoping online offerings will attract nontraditional students.

Enrollment among students older than 25 increased 19% between 2003 and 2013, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The center projects an increase of 14% from 2013 to 2023 — 6 percentage points more than the 13% increase it projects for students younger than 25.

The administration plans to become a Hispanic Serving Institution by increasing Hispanic enrollment.

Institutions are categorized as Hispanic Serving when they have a Hispanic undergraduate enrollment of at least 25%. Hispanic Serving Institutions have access to exclusive grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

NIU had a 17.9% Hispanic undergraduate population in 2017, according to the 2017–2018 data book.

UIC is an Hispanic Serving Institution.

Jensen said many Hispanic students in Chicago attend UIC to save money by living at home. He said the university plans to look into financial aid opportunities like housing waivers to draw these students.

Goal three: increase equity between demographics

Jensen said the office of academic affairs will be tailoring plans to specific student populations. Much of goal three is concerned with increasing first-year retention rates.

“The data suggests that reducing equity gaps, particularly for Black and Latinx students, will have a significant impact on retention and degree completion,” according to the plan.

Retention rates tie into the reputation and branding from goal one, Jensen said.

“[We] can have a bigger impact if we increase retention rates,” he said.