Enrollment sees 3% decrease from Fall 2020

Student+organizations+wear+masks+during+the+involvement+fair+Sunday+in+MLK+Commons.

Northern Star File Photo

Student organizations wear masks during the involvement fair Sunday in MLK Commons.

Kierra Frazier and Ashley Dwy

DeKALBTotal enrollment for the Fall 2021 semester fell 3% from Fall 2020, according to 10-day enrollment data released Thursday. NIU saw a decrease of 535 students from last fall, with total enrollment sitting at 16,234 students for Fall 2021.

Total first-year enrollment for the fall semester increased by 238 students, now totaling 2,285 students, according to the 10-day enrollment census. Incoming first-year enrollment increased by nearly 12% since Fall 2020. Of the new first-year students, 57% are first-generation college students.

Overall, I think that we’ve taken steps that we’ve hoped would help us realize an increase in new freshmen.”

— NIU President Lisa Freeman

NIU President Lisa Freeman said the university anticipated a drop in overall enrollment. One of the largest decreases was seen in non-degree-seeking students, who are typically working professionals looking to earn a certificate or take a specific course. 

Freeman also said that the biggest drop in retention rates was seen in fall-to-fall rising sophomores, where only 65% of rising sophomores re-enrolled. 

“The duration of their educational careers that (students) have had to deal with, the challenges of the pandemic, the isolation, the learning loss   it’s greater, and I think it’s been cumulative,” Freeman said. 

Currently, 90% of employees and 80% of students are fully vaccinated, Freeman said. Around 3% of students opted for a medical or religious exemption. The remaining percentage of students are either waiting to get vaccinated or have not received two doses of the vaccine. 

New master’s level and professional degree students increased by 28% and new doctoral students increased by 22%. The College of Law “grew for the third straight year,” and enrollment of new transfer students “generally held steady,” according to the data.

From 2017 to 2021, out-of-state domestic students increased by more than 50%, and NIU’s student population now represents all 50 states.

The 10-day count of enrollment for Spring 2021 was 15,216 students, and Fall 2020 saw 16,609 students, a 1% increase from Fall 2019.

The 1.5% increase in tuition for fiscal year 2022 was not a deterrent for enrollment this fall because the increase only impacts incoming first-year students and first-year enrollment increased by nearly 12% since Fall 2020. 

“I think overall it was the right decision to me, and we never raise tuition thoughtlessly,” Freeman said. 

The university’s five-year Strategic Enrollment Management Plan shows 17,005 students to be enrolled by Fall 2021, missing the mark by 771 students. 

Freeman said NIU plans to do a major refresh of the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, so the university can have a new three-year plan that incorporates what NIU has learned from COVID-19.

NIU eliminated undergraduate application fees and joined the Common App in August 2020 to “reduce barriers for students in their pursuit of higher education,” according to the news release. The Common App allows prospective students to apply to multiple schools with one online application. There was a 30% increase in the total number of applicants on the Common App over 2020. 

Incoming students are automatically considered for merit scholarships based on their high school GPA following NIU eliminating the standardized test scores from the application process. There were 1,614 first-year merit scholarship recipients for Fall 2021 and, of that number, 64% are students of color, a 10% increase from 2020.

“Overall, I think that we’ve taken steps that we’ve hoped would help us realize an increase in new freshmen, making NIU an institution of choice and I feel like we’re succeeding, and I can tell you that we’re super excited about this freshmen class, about their interests, their academic profile and obviously the 12% increase in enrollment,” Freeman said.