University defies trend of enrollment decline

By Heather Schlitz, Staff Writer

While enrollment at colleges and universities across Illinois has steadily dropped, the University’s prestige and large size has allowed it to keep its head above water in the face of a rising tide of out-of-state competition.

Sitting in front of a large map of Illinois in his office, representing high school visits by admissions representatives up and down the state, Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions, lays out the University’s recruiting strategy for the future.

A constellation of stars marking major feeder schools, or schools where many students go on to higher-level education, rings Chicago, while circles denote the increasing number of high school visits downstate, where the University sees its biggest potential for growth.

Largely reflecting patterns found across the country, Illinois’ larger universities continue to maintain or to increase their sizes, while small and regional schools suffer as their student populations dwindle.

The University’s population has increased by 2,431 students from 2012 to 2016 while public universities in Illinois have dropped by 10,002 students from 2012 to 2016.

With early action decisions sent out in December and the next wave of acceptances being sent to prospective students this associate provost for enrollment management, hopes to bring in 7,500 new freshmen for the Class of 2022.

While its reputation and land-grant size may have contributed to keeping the University attractive for students, smaller universities in Illinois have been unable to have the same magnetic effect.

The academic strength and size of the Chicago market means students from the area have a bevy of both in- and out-of-state college choices. Consequently, out-of-state schools have honed in on Chicago as a prime recruiting spot.

“Certain schools like Iowa (State University) have very aggressive recruiting tactics,” Mann said. “Chicago is one of the biggest markets in the country with very talented students.

Places like Iowa that don’t have a big enough population to sustain its three major universities are lowering their out-of-state tuition and putting more resources into recruiting students from Illinois.”

Out-of-state students are charged $33,146 for tuition, fees, room and board and books and supplies at Iowa State University. In-state students are charged $31,012 at the University of Illinois.

Mann said the recent state budget impasse has fueled doubts among high school students and parents, who wondered if public schools — which lack appropriate funding — will even remain open long enough for them to graduate.

Illinois’ declining population may not be doing its colleges and universities any favors either.

“The significant out-migration that’s happening over the last couple of years means that there are fewer students to go after in the first place,” Borst said.

Now the presidents and administrators of public universities across Illinois are putting together a unified effort to attempt to persuade Illinois students to stay in the state, competing against out-of-state universities for students instead of each other, Mann said.

“This is something people are worried about because people who go out of state for college tend to stay out of state and get jobs out of state,” Mann said. “That’s not great for Illinois’ economy.”

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