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UIS Enrollment Dips Again

Sam Dunklau
NPR Illinois 91.9 FM

Fall enrollment numbers at the University of Illinois Springfield dipped more than six percent this year compared to last, despite a larger freshman class. Overall attendance has been declining for the last few years.

4,275 students are enrolled at UIS now, compared to 4,575 in 2018. This year's head count marks the lowest amount of students since 2001. The latest drop comes just five years after the university saw its biggest fall enrollment ever, with 5,431 students signing up for classes in 2014.

But on the plus side, more freshman students enrolled this year compared to last. U.S. News & World Report also ranked UIS as one of the most "ethnically diverse" campuses in the Midwest in its latest roundup of US colleges and universities.

While the freshman class is the largest in school history, at 373, the number of part time and graduate students dropped compared to a year ago. Part-time student enrollment dropped by 300, and there are 1,601 graduate students this year, compared to 1,761 last year.

Chancellor Susan Koch spoke frankly about the numbers.

“It’s complicated, I think, to assess everything," she said. "There is no doubt: these are challenging times for higher education across the state.”

Koch says UIS hasn’t increased tuition for five years. She wouldn’t say whether that’s on the table this year given the low numbers.

Natalie Herring heads up enrollment efforts at UIS. She said there are fewer international students attending class on campus and online. They’ve long been a cornerstone of the student body.

“Certainly, in this day and age, we know that the political climate is impacting international enrollment for everyone, and certainly a smaller school like ours take a little bit of a bigger hit," she said.

Herring points to stricter requirements for international students as another reason for the dip. She and others have convened an enrollment management committee to figure out how to increase the low numbers.

One idea the UIS administration is already pursuing involves recruiting and retaining more transfer students.

"We know we need to study that more carefully," Chancellor Koch explained. "We need to understand why fewer transfer students are moving on to four-year institutions; they need that four-year degree, and we want to enable that to happen in a more positive way."

The chancellor pointed to high water marks for overall fundraising as another bright spot in an otherwise dim report; the university's capital campaign surpassed $30 million this week.

My view is that the future is bright," she said. "Contributors and the community and alums have a great deal of confidence in the future of the university."

Meanwhile, record enrollment was reported at the University of Illinois' other two campuses. At Urbana-Champaign, the total number of students topped 50,000 for the first time. The system's Chicago campus picked up another 3,264 students this year, 1,066 of whom came from the school's acquisition of the John Marshall Law School.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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