NIU Needs a Time Out

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Northern Illinois University released a 10th-day enrollment total for university showing a 3% year-over-year decline in total overall enrollment.  According to the university, the 2019 total headcount is coming in at 16,609 students, compared with 17,169 in the 2018 academic year. This means this year’s student population is the lowest enrollment in 50 years and a far cry from the 25,000 plus students of 20 years ago.

This marks the 10th straight year there has been a decline in enrollment at Northern Illinois University. According to NIU officials, the climate for student recruitment in Illinois has become increasingly competitive over the past decade, with negative impacts on undergraduate and graduate enrollment at NIU and most Illinois public universities. The decline in High School seniors graduating is less than the 3% decline enrollment at NIU.  The reports that 48.5% of all Illinois High School seniors go out of state for advanced schooling is more defining the future of Illinois colleges and universities.

Comments from university officials stated that all schools (universities and colleges) in Illinois had seen a decline. This is contrary according to reports from various schools in Illinois.  Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University have seen a small increase in the number of students. Eastern saw an increase of 3.7%, from 7,526 in fall 2018 to 7,806 in fall 2019. ISU campus enrollment stands at 20,878 (now larger than NIU), a 1.2 percent increase over the last academic year which saw nearly a 5% increase from the previous 2017-18 school year.  Western Illinois Unversity and Southern Illinois have seen a decline in enrollment for the 2019-20 school year over the 2018-19 school year. All official enrollment figures were computed after the 10th day of classes.

The number of students at NIU needs to be refined as to the students on campus and those attending the satellite campuses in Rockford, Naperville, and Schaumburg. Additional information needs to be provided to those students living in DeKalb (dorms or apartments) and those commuting to campus. In a survey of NIU parking lots show that there are as many commuter students now with the student population at 16,000 as when the campus had 24,000 students. 

NIU needs to take a ‘time out’ and both review the true reasons for the decline of students on campus and show ways to stabilize and increase enrollment in the future. President Lisa Freeman’s Strategic Enrollment Plan 2019-2023 would increase enrollment by 3,000 internet students.  These students would not live on campus or support the local economy.

It is time to address the empty classrooms and dormitories at Northern. With a quantity of high-class documented NIU Professors and researchers, make academics a higher priority. Don’t lower but raise the standards to get into NIU. Become a national media success by offering some of the 700 empty dormitory rooms ‘free of charge’ to military veterans and/or children of military service members or first responders killed in action.

NIU needs to build on academic success and not just the number of bodies. Winning a sporting event does not grow the student population as seen with students not attending football and basketball games. In the early 2000’s Northern Illinois University was recognized nationally for the world-class undergraduate and graduate accounting programs. During this same time, the School of Music was recognized nationally for its outstanding jazz and instrumental/string programs.

When talking with parents of college-bound high school students, most look at five key areas for their child’s future education. 1) Cost and affordability 2) Academics 3) Safety  4) Size of campus 5) Proximity to home. Look at issues and not causes to elevate the University to its former status. 

Strategic Enrollment Management guidelines (January 2019)
NIU takes great pride in its historical success at providing an accessible, affordable and high-quality education to talented students from underserved populations (first generation in the family to attend college, students of color or students with high financial need). The university remains dedicated to its mission of making a college degree attainable, and we celebrate the rich diversity of our student population. NIU is ranked in the top third of Colleges Worth Your Investment and is of the most affordable colleges in Illinois for both in-state and out-of-state tuition. NIU also has a rich history of serving transfer students through established seamless transfer pathways. 

NIU has a long, rich tradition of academic excellence with a breadth of programmatic offerings that meets the modern and evolving workforce demands. The nationally and internationally recognized faculty are not only dedicated to advancing their academic disciplines, but, in collaboration with NIU staff, are also focused on providing meaningful curricular and co-curricular experiences that prepare NIU students to be successful in their future careers. 

Goal 1: Strengthen our distinctive identity as a public university that combines educational opportunity with student engagement. Strategy: Refine and reinforce our brand identity to best differentiate NIU to our target markets. Strategy: Leverage NIU’s brand and values to attract, retain and engage employees to serve as brand advocates.  Goal 2: Achieve student enrollment that respects our mission and values while positioning NIU for fiscal sustainability. Strategy: Clearly define recruitment targets and create tailored, comprehensive plans to drive action. Strategy: Provide enhanced, responsive and effective scholarship and financial aid options that will attract students and ensure their success.  Goal 3: Support equitable access, opportunity and success for students from diverse backgrounds where diversity is defined broadly. Strategy: Clearly define retention and completion goals and create tailored, comprehensive plans to best support the specific needs of our diverse student population (also serves Goal 2). Strategy: Clearly identify gaps in academic achievement and create tailored and comprehensive plans to reduce these gaps (also serves Goal 2).

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