Enrollment hits below 20K, lowest in 34 years

By Alexander Chettiath

NIU’s total spring enrollment is down 2.5 percent from fall 2015 when enrollment was 20,130, NIU President Doug Baker said at a University Council meeting Wednesday.

NIU has seen a steady decline in enrollment since 2009 when total enrollment was 24,424. The 2.5 percent decline for the spring puts NIU below 20,000, the lowest in the 34 years recorded by NIU Institutional Research.

“We were down, but we weren’t as down as much as in the fall,” Baker said. “We were down 2.5 percent in the spring and 3 percent in the fall … We were up in retention in almost every category, I think the retention rate was at 88.5 percent for freshmen.”

The freshmen retention rate is the highest it has been in the last five years and is up 1.5 percent from spring 2015, Baker said.

“Across the state I have seen applications down at most universities and you can see why,” Baker said. “If you are a student thinking about going to college and you look at the [state budget] you’re wondering, ‘What’s going on? Should I be going to school in Illinois?’”

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Fiscal Year 2016 proposed budget includes reduction in funds to public entities, including NIU’s $93 million in allocations for Fiscal Year 2015 being cut to about $64 million. A lack of agreement on the proposed budget has resulted in a seven-month impasse. Without a finalized budget, state appropriations cannot be given.

Transfer enrollment is up by 28 people, Baker said. The decline from the fall could be due to a large graduating class in December or a graduate enrollment decline due to a better economy, said NIU Spokesperson Joe King.

Despite enrollment and budget concerns, the NIU Board of Trustees agreed to maintain tuition at the current level through the 2016-17 academic year at a Dec. 10 meeting.