NIU administration cannot be put entirely at fault for the 5 percent enrollment decrease it experienced this fall, as the majority of Illinois public universities are experiencing major enrollment declines.
NIU blamed the decrease on the continuing population decline in Illinois and the level of state support for higher education, according to a Sept. 7 email from NIU President Doug Baker.
The wavering state support for higher education was no exaggeration, as Illinois lawmakers allocated $74.7 million to NIU for Fiscal Year 2016 — a 17.9 percent cut compared to the $91 million allocated for FY15 — according to a July 11 Northern Star article.
For many students, committing to college means plunging into piles of student debt. In Illinois, 67 percent of students leave college with an average debt of $28,984, according to the Institute for College Access and Success’ website.
Monetary Award Program grants, which are awarded to students in need of financial assistance by FAFSA, were also at risk for a loss of state funding. Because some students rely on these grants to pay for their education, the risk of them not being funded by the state may have forced them to forfeit their schooling.
NIU took less of a blow to enrollment compared to the majority of other Illinois public universities. Eastern Illinois University took the biggest hit, experiencing a 13 percent drop, according to a Sept. 8 Chicago Tribune article. The NIU freshman class, which declined about 20 percent, faced one of the largest drops, according to the email. Because of this, NIU needs to hone in on initiatives to keep the fresman class from declining further.
Some steps are already being taken by NIU, such as the Holmes Student Center renovation and minimal tuition increases in the past three years, according to the email. However, NIU can still boost its efforts by continuing to renovate buildings on campus like the residence halls. One of the first things that draws incoming students to a university is the aesthetic of a campus, which is something NIU needs to improve.
Although overall enrollment dropped, multiple programs, including undergraduate and graduate engineering, undergraduate computer science and graduate public administration, experienced enrollment increases.
Considering these enrollment increases and the steps NIU is taking to recruit and retain more students, one can only realistically point fingers at state lawmakers.