Eastern Illinois University has reversed a multi-year drop in the number of new freshmen, according to Provost Blair Lord. This year, the university will see a modest increase of 2.50 percent in the number of new freshmen coming to EIU.
However, the overall number of freshmen at Eastern remained even with last year with an offsetting reduction in the number of continuing and returning students. Continuing freshman students are those who haven’t earned enough credits to move onto sophomore status while returning students are individuals who have left the university and are seeking to re-enroll.
“We’ve been working hard on an overall enrollment management strategy and those efforts are beginning to pay off,” Lord said. “"Not only did we increase our incoming freshman class, we did it while preserving our admissions standards.”
Lord said that the average ACT score is up more than a point from 21 to 22.1 and that the average high school grade point average of the incoming freshmen rose from 3.1 to 3.3 on a four point scale.
“It was important to us to maintain our academic standards,” he said, “so that the students we welcome to campus can succeed. We have a strong retention rate and we wanted to keep it that way.”
Lord attributes at least part of the stronger academic profile to a series of merit scholarships the university established just last year.
“We now have several tiers of merit-based scholarships designed to attract higher achieving students, “ he said, “and we even provide a special online calculator so that students can quickly see how much they can expect to receive in merit scholarships.”
Lord did note that the number of transfer students is down from last year’s number, but indicated that really wasn’t a surprise. That decline did hurt the overall enrollment number, though.
“There has been a decline in community college enrollments nationally,” he said, “and Illinois hasn’t been immune from that trend.”
Those declines have been driven by a difficult economy, according to Lord, which has made it difficult for many families to afford to go to school. In addition, students have been taking fewer credit hours in community colleges which means they take longer to complete their associate’s degree.
“Put those two factors together and you have a much smaller pool of prospective transfer students,” he said. “We did a good job of getting our share of transfer students, but it was a share of a smaller pool.”
The university also had a strong year in recruiting international students. This year, the university has welcomed 104 new international students compared to 57 last fall. In the graduate school, the number of true graduate students is up slightly despite a planned reduction of 125 students in one graduate program. That number was offset by increases in enrollments in 20 of the university’s 30 graduate programs.
The overall graduate school numbers include students who have just earned a bachelor’s degree but are pursuing special certifications or a second bachelor’s degree. A slight decline in that category brought total graduate school numbers down about 1 percent.
“We do expect our overall headcount to start back up as we continue to improve our recruiting,” Lord said, “hopefully with a little help from an improving economy. We’ve taken strong action and we’ve managed to stop a multi-year trend and move toward growing once again.”
Enrollment numbers for Fall 2013 include on-campus enrollment of 8,726 and an off-campus count of 1,049 for a total of 9,775. A year ago, the number of students taking on- and off-campus classes was 9,255 and 1,162, respectively, for a total enrollment of 10,417.
Other highlights from the enrollment report include:
• A breakdown of Eastern’s 8,347 undergraduate students (down from 8,975 last year) is as follows (with Fall 2012 figures in parentheses): freshmen, 1,941 (1,941); sophomores, 1,520 (1,694); juniors, 2,072 (2,229); and seniors, 2,758 (3,063). Female students again outnumber male students – 5,848 to 3,927.
• The number of new transfer students dropped to 938 from 1,029 in Fall 2012.
• EIU officials also report that minority student enrollment continues to climb overall, with minority students now making up 23.57 percent of total enrollment, up from 21.72 percent in 2012. Numbers reflect the following: black, 1,587; Hispanic, 437; Asian, 87; American Indian/Alaskan Native, 21; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 6; and those listing two or more races, 166. Hispanics represent the largest growth – nearly 10 percent – with an increase of 38 students over last year.