NIU sees decline of graduate student enrollment

By Chelsey Boutan

The official 10th day enrollment count shows NIU continued a steady decline of graduate students.

This year’s graduate enrollment of 5,365 is lower than last year’s 5,633. A steady decrease of graduate students started in 2003, when enrollment was 6,651.

Bradley Bond, dean of the division of research and graduate studies, attributes the decline in graduate student enrollment to the fact that NIU is located in a region where there is keen competition among universities to obtain graduate students.

Bond said NIU operates areas where there are more than 50 institutions approved to offer graduate degrees.

“So the point is, graduate students have lots and lots of choices,” Bond said.

Over the past five years, Illinois State University’s graduate student enrollment remained stable with an increase of 27 students from 2009 to 2010, according to the ISU website.

The University of Illinois at Chicago had a 9 percent increase in graduate student enrollment from 2006 to 2010, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign increased graduate student enrollment by nearly 18 percent from 2001 to 2010, according to the UIC and U of I websites.

Bond said he is concerned NIU is not attracting as many graduate students compared to past years because he sees graduate students as “critical to the life of an institution.”

One of Vision 2020 Initiative’s goals is to have 30,000 students enrolled by 2020. Graduate student enrollment will play an important role in achieving this goal, because the initiative doesn’t assume that the number of graduate students will decline, Bond said.

To increase graduate student enrollment, Bond said having the right programs and making sure they are delivered in formats that facilitate enrollment is essential.

Despite the overall decline in graduate student enrollment, the College of Health and Human Sciences had a 9 percent increase and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology had of 7.6 percent increase in graduate student enrollment compared to last year.

Mary Pritchard, interim dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS}, said CHHS graduate enrollment has steadily increased over the past eight years.

“This increase is largely due to the need for individuals trained in the professions offered by the college,” Pritchard said. “This is related to changes in the population of our country, with a larger percentage of elderly citizens who may need additional health care services.”

Promod Vohra, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET), said CEET established a global university outreach with countries such as China, India, South Korea and Taiwan.

Vohra said through the active recruitment of international graduate students, he hopes to see enrollment figures continue to increase.

Chris McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), said the CLAS had a decrease of 20 graduate students compared to last year, but over many years the graduate student population remained stable.

McCord said the program’s capacity could be one reason why the graduate enrollment in the CLAS has remained stable.

“If we grow, we’d have to think about how we are going to change things to accommodate that growth,” McCord said.

Over the past seven years, Bond said the College of Business and the College of Visual and Performing Arts had stable graduate student enrollments, whereas the College of Education saw a decline in the number of graduate students.

Bond said most programs not affiliated with teaching grades K-12 saw increased enrollment in the College of Education.

In the 1970s, when graduate student enrollment was at its peak, Bond said at that time there was nowhere near the number or level of competitors there are today.

“I don’t know if there is another region in the country that has the same number of institutions offering graduate degrees,” Bond said.

In 1976, graduate enrollment was 8,722. Enrollment has fluctuated since then.

The deans of the College of Business, College of Visual Performing Arts and the College of Education were contacted but did not respond as of press time.