Eastern Illinois University vowed to retain its admission standards while focusing on enrollment, and it was learned this week that those efforts were successful.
In fact, the average ACT score of new freshmen increased slightly (from 21.52 to 21.55).
Growing competition has led to aggressive efforts among the state’s higher education providers to influence students in their choice of colleges. These efforts include increased tuition discounting, increased investments in facilities/amenities and reduced admission standards, the latter of which is not an acceptable alternative for Eastern, said Blair Lord, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“We’ve been working hard on an overall enrollment management strategy,” Lord said, “but a reduction in admission standards is not part of our plan.”
Other positive news revealed by the official fall enrollment count was a 29 percent increase in Eastern’s international student enrollment – from 211 to 273.
“We are very pleased to welcome the most international students in EIU history currently representing 46 countries,” said Kevin Vicker, director, International Students and Scholars. “This growth is a testament to EIU’s emphasis on personal relationships with distinguished faculty, reasonable prices and several degree programs that international students find very attractive.
“The largest areas in terms of international student enrollment are currently technology, business, economics and sustainable energy,” he added.
Coincidently, U.S. News and World Report also released its annual college rankings, advancing Eastern to the No. 4 spot among the Midwest’s top public regional master’s universities. Eastern also was ranked 31 -- up from 36 in 2013 – among all Midwestern regional universities offering a full range of undergraduate degrees. EIU is the highest ranking regional public university in Illinois on the list.
The region encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Rankings are based on schools’ academic reputations, student selectivity, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources and alumni giving.
“Eastern continually strives to improve its programs and provide its students with the best education possible,” Lord said. “Additionally, the university has actively committed to keeping costs low and offering special features like its textbook rental program. It prides itself in its capacity for providing individual attention to EIU students.”
Unfortunately, the university has little to no control over certain outside influences that might affect enrollment -- a decreasing supply of students, for example.
The number of Illinois high school graduates was projected to decrease by 6 percent this year, with a smaller decrease expected through 2025. Enrollment at the state’s community colleges has decreased 9 percent overall since the height of the recession, with more significant decreases being reported at community colleges from which Eastern historically enrolls a majority of its transfer students.
Furthermore, Illinois is the fourth largest exporter of students to out-of-state colleges and universities, behind New Jersey, New York and California.
Surprisingly, while this pool of students continues to get smaller, the number of higher education providers is increasing. More than 300 colleges and universities, including 12 public four-year institutions, 48 community colleges, 98 independent not-for-profit institutions and 36 independent for-profit institutions, serve the state of Illinois.
More than 200 accredited online institutions in the U.S. aggravate the situation. A very large growth in online courses and programs nationwide as compared to the much smaller growth in higher education enrollments suggests that they are replacing face-to-face classes and programs.
What Eastern does plan to do is to rely on Chris Dearth, the university’s new director of admissions, to implement new initiatives and revise existing practices that will improve undergraduate enrollment. More specifically:
“We’ve been focusing our energies on recruitment, retention and financial aid, work that will continue,” said Mary Herrington-Perry, EIU’s assistant vice president for academic affairs and enrollment management. “But our primary market -- 18-year-old high school graduates -- is shrinking. As a result, we’re turning our attention to identifying new markets and developing new programs/repackaging existing programs for those markets.
“We have a great deal of work to do. But we also have many strengths to build on -- excellent quality and service, strong student outcomes, affordability,” she added.
Fall 2014 Enrollment Numbers
Current enrollment numbers reflect a Fall 2014 on-campus enrollment of 8,045 and an off-campus count of 868 for a total of 8,913. A year ago, the number of students taking on- and off-campus classes was 8,726 and 1,049, respectively, for a total enrollment of 9,775.
A breakdown of Eastern’s undergraduate students (down from 8,347 last year) is as follows (with Fall 2013 figures in parentheses): freshmen, 1,693 (1,941); sophomores, 1,454 (1,520); juniors, 1,923 (2,072); and seniors, 2,522 (2,758). (An additional 48 students are enrolled as post baccalaureate undergraduate students.) The number of new transfer students dropped from 938 in Fall 2013 to 888.
Graduate students number 1,273, a decrease from last year’s 1,428. Female students again outnumber male students – 5,379 to 3,534.
EIU officials report that minority student enrollment continues to climb, with minority students now making up 24.91 percent of total enrollment, up from 23.57 percent in 2013. In addition to international students, numbers reflect the following: black, 1,500; Hispanic, 444; Asian, 80; American Indian/Alaskan Native, 21; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 6; and those listing two or more races, 169.