DeKALB — With overall enrollment down 5.1 percent from the past fall, enrollment officials said campus visits are one of the most important factors in ensuring students choose NIU in pursuing higher education.
NIU offers individual, small-group and open-house tours to acquaint interested students with the campus and allow individuals to meet future peers. There has been an increase at open house events for the fall compared to previous years, according to the 2015-2017 Visit Attendance Report. However, attendance for daily visits have decreased, which is constituted by anything other than open-house tours, compared to previous years.
“Campus visits have been great,” said Sol Jensen, vice president of the Division of Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications. “Students have given tons of feedback, and we try to capture that feedback for future campus tours.”
Jensen is responsible for ensuring students attend NIU after visiting. Jensen, along with his team, strategize to attract potential undergraduate students to campus with the hope they apply and enroll after visiting.
Open houses are scheduled monthly on campus and allow individuals to tour the university, attend featured presentations, learn about academic programs and browse the academic and student life information fair, according to NIU’s website. Personalized visits allow individuals to meet faculty and staff who work in areas related to the interests of the prospective student. Students can also attend campus tours designed specifically for transfer students. These tours include meetings with admissions counselors, a transfer-specific admission presentation and a tour of the campus.
In 2017, larger events like the monthly open houses had 4,274 prospective students in attendance, while 3,613 made it to the campus for a daily visit, according to the 2015-2017 Visit Attendance Report. The numbers for daily visits also include walk-in visits and Transfer Friday visits. Walk-in visits are for individuals looking to speak with admissions representatives, and Transfer Friday visits are campus tours specifically designed for transfer students.
The amount of visits this semester reflected an increase in campus tour attendance compared to 2016, during which 4,038 prospective students attended large events. However, there has been a decrease in daily visits, as there were 4,259 students in attendance in 2016. However, November and December visits have not yet been accounted for in the report.
“The open houses are really kind of a create-your-own-path,” Jensen said. “We provide students and their families with a lot of different options to do throughout the day, and based on their interests and needs, they can pick and choose what they want to see.”
Although attendance numbers have been up for open house tours, the data does not directly correlate with projected enrollment numbers, Jensen said.
“Obviously, we know because more students are visiting campus that there’s more of a likelihood applying, and there is going to be some correlation, but I would certainly hesitate to put any direct correlation between visit numbers and how many students enroll,” Jensen said.
Other factors that affect enrollment include whether prospective students have visited other campuses and the state of their finances, Jensen said.
“So much happens in the springtime with students,” Jensen said. “They could love the campus and it could be the place they want to go, but if financial aid isn’t affordable for the campus, students may choose elsewhere.”
The decrease in daily campus visits was because of scheduling conflicts in the Holmes Student Center in September, Jensen said. An event that was taking place took up all of the ballrooms in the student center, so an Application Kickoff event was created in its place.
The Application Kickoff event was for high school seniors coming to campus to receive guidance regarding how to fill out an NIU application. A total of 21 students attended the event.
“It definitely in no way compares to what last year's open house was, but we knew we had space for a small number of students,” Jensen said.
If students apply to NIU on the same day they attend a campus visit, the application fee is waived, Jensen said. During the November visit, 224 of 829 prospective students took advantage of the same-day application fee waiver.
"I think that's really telling of students who have interest and students who had a good experience that they want to apply for admission and for sure learn more about NIU,” Jensen said.
Jensen said he plans to pair future September open house tours with a home football game to attract more visitors.
"It adds more excitement to the day,” Jensen said. “It's something we'd like to try and institute in order to draw more excitement to the campus."
Other tactics implemented this semester include advertising. The main focus for advertising was digital, Jensen said. Any ads seen on webpages, Facebook and other social media sites created most of the traffic to NIU’s website. There were also billboards erected in the Chicagoland area with the intent of attracting students to the last two open house visits of the semester.
“Students respond very positively to our open houses, especially the parents,” said Northern Ambassadors Coordinator Adolfo Sto Domingo. “After every open house, students fill out evaluations so we can determine the quality of the tour. They’re genuinely surprised at how well-structured our tours are. Overall, we received really positive feedback.”
The Northern Ambassadors are responsible for giving campus tours. Some of their duties include answering questions students or parents have about the university and calling students after they have completed a tour to ask about their experience.
Emily Wines, freshman special education major, attended two campus tours at NIU and said her tour guides were helpful during the process.
“I was really interested to get my tour guide’s view on campus,” Wines said. “The tour guides gave me a lot of pointers and they were great helpers.”
After a campus tour ends, admissions counselors follow up with visitors to ensure they’re turning in all of the components needed to apply to NIU, Jensen said. Once students have been accepted to the university, counselors reach out to students to draw them back into campus and answer any questions students may have.
“Visiting campus is still one of the most important factor students use to make the determination of where they go to college,” Jensen said. “We obviously want to make sure if students are interested in coming to visit that we are allowing every opportunity to make it possible."