Total enrollment rises again at Eastern

Analicia Haynes, Senior Reporter

Eastern’s enrollment is up 3.7 percent total headcount from 7,526 in fall 2018 to 7,806 this fall.

Total headcount includes full-time enrollment and part-time enrollment for undergraduates and graduates, and high school students taking dual credit courses.

This year there are 1,191 full-time freshmen and 67 part-time freshmen; 737 full-time sophomores and 38 part-time sophomores; 871 full-time juniors and 164 part-time juniors; and 1,177 full-time seniors and 360 part-time seniors.

Also there are 1,580 students taking dual credit courses part-time.

There are 571 full-time graduate students and 906 part-time graduate students making it a total of 1,577.

According to tenth day numbers there is a total first-time freshman class increase of 12.5 percent from 789 in fall 2018 to 888 this fall; a 4.2 percent increase in graduate-level enrollment from 1,491 in fall 2018 to 1,554 this fall; and a 10 percent increase in freshmen and sophomores enrolled in on-campus classes.

There are 4,917 students on campus, which is a -3.25 percent change compared to last year’s 5,082, and there are 1,309 students off campus, which is a 11.88 percent change compared to last year.

“Enrollment Tail” and understanding tenth day enrollment

Eastern’s Provost Jay Gatrell explained during a Tuesday Faculty Senate meeting that there is an “enrollment tail” between the upper division classes (seniors and juniors) and the lower division (freshmen and sophomores).

The current senior and junior classes are smaller classes compared to the new incoming freshmen classes and as those students graduate while enrollment continues to increase then Eastern will see significant growth, Gatrell said.

Currently there are 1,119 full-time freshmen students compared to 871 full-time juniors and 1,177 full-time seniors. There are 737 sophomores compared to last fall’s 685.

Gatrell said the key to looking at enrollment growth is to look over the course of a four-year cycle and ask if there is improvement.

“Since we had two very positive cycles that are significantly larger than (the current juniors and seniors) and as those people graduate and enrollments continue to increase we will see continued growth on campus,” Gatrell said. “So overall we feel very positive about the trajectory and where we are.”

Gatrell said since the university is seeing a net positive growth in the lower division level (freshman and sophomore) and that is a result being on the right trajectory and thus making progress.

The current senior and junior classes are smaller classes, which is a result of uncertainty in the state of Illinois.

“We’re strong and stable and heading the right direction,” Gatrell said.

Mark Hudson, the director of housing and dining, said the increase in the freshman class this year is not an “unsubstantial number.”

“Remember that a 12 percent growth (this year) is 12 percent on top of 25 percent (from last year’s freshmen class increase) now you’re talking about a 35 percent increase compared to where we were two years ago,” Hudson said. “It’s that cumulative march forward.”

“That takes a lot when you have a big graduating class leaving to replace that,” Miller said. “Overall when you look at those big graduating classes and we’re still going up, we are thrilled about that.”

Understanding Credit Hours and Dual Credit

Paul McCann, the interim vice president of business affairs, said he is pleased with the enrollment increase from the business side of things because the amount of credit hours this year is very close to matching the amount of credit hours from last year.

McCann said this year the number of credit hours is very close to matching the number from last year and part of that reason is the increase in the enrollment number of incoming freshmen and transfers.

That number is growing compared to the number of students who graduate from Eastern.

“We are at the place … where we wanted to be (this year), we wanted to have as many students coming in as going out (and) we are there and I measure that by credit hours,” McCann said.

When it comes to dual credit, though, McCann said the reason universities count that number is because the Board of Education wants “everybody on the same basis,” and by “everybody” meaning community colleges and four-year institutions.

McCann said there is some tuition dollars that come from dual credit enrollment and the university receives that money either from the actual student taking the course or the district that student or students are in.

“There is a benefit to having dual credit students and the biggest benefit is they know about Eastern and they start thinking (about coming to school here),” McCann said. “That’s our job, to make sure that they understand that we are a college that wants them to come.”

How does enrollment grow?

Josh Norman, the associate vice president for enrollment management, said in an Aug. 28 interview that there were several factors that contributed to enrollment growth.

One of those factors is the strategic enrollment plan put in place in 2017.

The 10-year plan adjusts annually to reflect the changing data collected from college choice surveys, and the end goal is to reach an on-campus enrollment of 9,000 to 10,000 students.

Hudson said that one of the many goals under this initiative is to grow the freshman class by 100 students every year for the next 10 years.

“If we keep building and get our freshman class up to 1,200 or so, that would sustain our enrollment,” Hudson said. “If we have three or more years of sustained growth, we could reach that 9,000-student mark and that’s a really sweet mark for us as an institution.”

Norman said the team helping with the strategic enrollment plan finished 66 action plans during this enrollment cycle, which include redesigning the major and minors database on Eastern’s website and making mailings to potential students more personal.

He said personalization is also a key to enrollment success.

Other factors that help with enrollment growth include the help from admissions staff, continued rebranding efforts, alumni support and stable leadership on campus, Norman said.

Miller said another factor that helped encourage enrollment growth is the development of relationships between alumni and students and people already working in key offices on campus, and having stability in place in certain leadership roles such as admissions counselors and the processing staff in the admissions office.

Miller said having people in place and constantly improving teamwork within offices on campus encourages enrollment growth because everyone is on the same page and adds their own pieces.

As for the overall feel on campus, Miller said there is a clear change.

“You see the parking lots fuller and you see Walmart busier and just walking through campus, you can feel it. You have offices hiring people back so all of that contributes to that (happy) feeling and it took a lot of hard work across campus,” Miller said.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].