Total enrollment down 4.8 percent, fourth consecutive semester

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — Total enrollment has declined by 4.8 percent, making this fall the fourth consecutive semester for a near-five percent decline in enrollment, according to the 10-Day enrollment figures.

Total enrollment, which consists of undergraduate, graduate and transfer students, declined by 5.5 percent in spring 2017, five percent in fall 2017 and 4.7 percent this past spring semester. The fall 2017 semester enrollment totaled 18,042, in comparison to this fall’s 17,169 enrolled students.

The only areas the university has seen an increase in enrollment is with off-campus graduate students by 3.3 percent, new masters students by 3.4 percent, new doctoral students by 10.7 percent and new freshmen enrollment by 0.2 percent.

Sol Jensen, vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications, said he has been with the university for just over a year and has learned a lot in terms of what efforts NIU has utilized to help boost enrollment.

“My position is new, so this is the first time that NIU has had someone in the administrative role that is solely dedicated to enrollment,” Jensen said.

Jensen said he thinks there will be a larger graduating class in May 2019 than the number of incoming students. He said because the number of first-year students has remained stable, after this year enrollment is expected to be flat, and admissions will be able to build up the numbers.

“Really around 2020, that’s when we would expect to either really hold flat with total enrollment or actually start to increase that back up,” Jensen said.

During the fall 2017 semester the freshman class increased by 2.8 percent, according to a Sept. 14, 2017, Northern Star article.

With the 0.2 percent increase in the freshmen population this year, first-year students are expected to continue increasing in number.

“We’ve been efforting all of the different populations but we’ve had a lot of success specifically with those first-year freshmen the last couple of years, and we still have plans to have grow there in addition to transfers and graduate students,” Jensen said.

Jensen said diversity has increased across the university, with at least half of the incoming students now being first-generation college students. He said the office will be utilizing text messaging more to assist those without knowledge of applying for federal financial aid and things of that nature.

Jensen also said enrollment efforts have transitioned to targeting students early on in their high school careers. He said there has been a transition where high school students are looking at colleges during their freshman and sophomore years.

“We just have to communicate better and earlier, and so those are the things we’ve started implementing, some of those this past year,” Jensen said.

Transfer students are down 8.1 percent this semester, but efforts are already in motion to combat the decline.

Jensen said the university has committed to implementing more merit scholarships and need-based aid for transfer students because there hasn’t been much done to improve the transfer enrollment.

“We just feel that it’s time to pick up some of the slack there, so we’ll have a plan here in a short while, and that will impact some of our transfer numbers,” Jensen said.

Senior nursing major Zoe Lange said she thinks safety concerns may be impacting NIU enrollment numbers.

“For me I don’t feel that safe around here, so I feel like I’m not the only person, and I don’t see them doing that much, as far as like more police activity and what not just to prevent it,” Lange said.

Senior nursing major Shelby Sanders said she thinks the transition of presidents may be impacting students’ desire to come to NIU.

“I also feel like we had a lot of issues last year with the president changing and the whole Baker thing, so I feel like that probably doesn’t help our case,” Sanders said.

Karlos Lugo, senior nonprofit management major, said he thinks enrollment declining has to do with the cost of college and tuition prices. He also said the cost of living may affect students’ desire to attend NIU because he knows a lot of people who started NIU by living in DeKalb, but eventually transitioned to commuting because the cost of living became harder for people to manage.

Lugo also said people are finding other ways to become successful without a degree, like becoming YouTubers or taking up a trade by going to trade school.

“I think a lot has to do with this approach on college too, this idea of like, ‘No you’ve got to go to college,’ you know there’s a lot of people who are making it big without a degree,” Lugo said.