A 2019 fall headcount places enrollment at just 16,609 students, a 3% decline from last year and the lowest it has been in 41 years, according to the NIU data book. A fall 2018 student census found that the total enrollment was 17,169 — almost a 600 student difference to this semester. NIU has a five-year strategic plan to reverse the declining direction of enrollment. The primary cause of this declining trend is costs, and it has been affecting all colleges in Illinois.
As described by the enrollment plan, “disinvestment in public universities in the face of escalating unfunded mandates” is a primary factor in enrollment decline. As more commissions and policies are created, there is less state and national funding to fulfill them. This creates a cycle in which very little improvement can be accomplished.
There are also daunting student loans which tend to “discourage prospective students with greater financial need,” according to the plan. No one likes being in debt, and higher education is more costly than ever. The average amount owed in loans from students at NIU ranges from $21,782 for two years and $43,564 for four years of loans, according to college factual’s website. This large expense would deter prospective college students from enrolling.
The NIU Strategic Enrollment Management Plan focuses on three goals. The first goal is to reinforce the unique identity of NIU to target markets. Essentially, NIU wants to put emphasis on school values to attract employees and students. Secondly, student enrollment will be aimed at respecting the mission and values of NIU. To achieve this, NIU aims to increase scholarship and financial aid effectiveness and responsiveness, according to the Spring 2019 enrollment data.
Finally, NIU hopes to provide equal opportunity and access for students with diverse backgrounds. To achieve this, NIU will generate comprehensive plans to identify gaps in academic achievement and fix them. However, these goals do a poor job of addressing the prominent issue of costs.
If NIU does not direct the whole of their resources to fix the problems of disinvestment and large student debt, enrollment will continue to drop in the years to come.