University enrollment fluctuates statewide


Jason Howell

Eastern, which has the lowest student enrollment in the state, declined nearly 400 students this year. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Western Illinois University and Northern Illinois University have also declined.

Roberto Hodge, News Editor

Some four-year public universities have steadily declined statewide in student enrollment.

Enrollment for Eastern, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Western Illinois University and Northern Illinois University has declined; however, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Illinois State University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have increased.

Eastern has the lowest student enrollment in the state at 8,520, which is a decrease of nearly 400 students from the previous fall semester.

The University of Illinois is the largest with more than 40,000 students currently enrolled.

Chris Dearth, the director of admissions at Eastern, said enrollment is down overall in many of the public state universities because of an increased competition both in and out of state.

Dearth said Eastern has traditionally been one of the smallest schools of the bunch, which has often been its charm.

He said one of the hallmarks of the institution is the ability of the campus to be more personal and intimate.

“We are truly student-centered,” Dearth said.

Eastern’s enrollment has typically always been around the 10,000 range, Dearth said.

Dearth said Eastern and Western are usually the two smallest campuses, which can be traced to their geographical location.

Western’s enrollment for the current semester is 11,094, which is 364 less than the previous fall semester.

Blair Lord, the vice president for academic affairs at Eastern, said Western and Eastern are the two universities with the most similarities not only in geographical location but also in enrollment trends, which is reflected in their decreases.

However, Illinois State is the university’s biggest competitor; it had an enrollment of 20,788, which is a 173 increase from the previous year.

“As an institution with sort of a second position within the state, (Illinois State has) the ability to continue to attract students while the Eastern, the Western, the Northern’s are having more trouble,” Lord said.

Because students usually gravitate toward schools in larger metropolitan areas, schools in the rural parts of the state are smaller than those surrounded by bigger cities.

What has been found is students are also attending universities closer to home that will allow them to commute because not every family can afford to house a student on a campus far away from home, Dearth said.

Lord, who agreed with Dearth, said Illinois State is a centrally located campus with it being inside the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area, which is attracting more students.

“Eastern attracts over 50 percent of our undergraduate student body north of Interstate 80; well, what’s between those students and Eastern? University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and Illinois State,” Lord said.

Both Lord and Dearth said overall student enrollment is down, which is affecting many of the campuses across the state.

When it comes to recruitment, Eastern is heavily focused on freshmen and transfer enrollment, and transfers usually make up one third of the student body.

“We are intentionally dependent on both a regular flow of transfers and a regular flow of freshmen,” Lord said.

Dearth said although enrollment has declined, their decrease is not as significant as some of the other public universities, and he said the number will stabilize.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s enrollment has decreased by nearly 700 from the previous year.

One of the reason’s Eastern’s numbers have stayed on the lower end is because the campus has graduated large classes the past few years.

Dearth said for the 2013 year, the university graduated 2,238 students and 2,138 in 2014; it is uncertain how large the 2015 class will be because those numbers will not be available until later in the year.

Lord said President David Glassman believes enrollment would decline for another year before stabilizing.

“He has good reason to think that,” Lord said.


Roberto Hodge can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]