Western Illinois University's fall student enrollment is down 6.5% compared to last year. Western welcomed more than 10,373 students to campus this fall. That’s 721 students fewer than last year.
Western President Jack Thomas said some of that drop was because of a larger graduating class in the spring. But the university also saw declines in transfer students, international students, and graduate students.
“Based on all that happened last year in terms of the state not giving us a budget, and the crisis of confidence that it created for higher education and particularly the public colleges and universities, we feel that with what we had, we’ve done well," Thomas said.
On a positive note, Western’s freshmen class enrollment remained stable. There are about 1,527 first year students on campus this fall compared to 1,535 last fall.
Thomas said as part of the effort to attract freshmen, the university made sure to expand its recruitment territory by visiting more high schools and holding more student recruitment events. Thomas said even faculty and staff got more involved.
“We always say that recruitment and retention is everyone’s job,” Thomas said. “We were all very involved and we are very thankful for getting to where we are today in spite of the reductions.”
Thomas said the stable freshmen enrollment was also made possible through Western’s decision to lower student tuition rates by 3% this fall despite drastic cuts in state appropriations. He said Western was the only state school that cut tuition and it helped tremendously with attracting and retaining students.
Western, like other public colleges in Illinois, is once also again covering MAP grants for low-income students this fall. The university paid for the scholarships all last school year when the state failed to fund them due to the budget impasse. Illinois has since reimbursed universities for the cost of MAP grants for last school year.
Western detailed its fall enrollment numbers in a press release titled, “Western Illinois University: A Bright Future.” In the release, the University provided the following enrollment facts:
- Fall 2016 freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate rose to 69.2% from 67.7% in the Fall of 2015.
- Fall 2016 overall undergraduate enrollment is 8,543, a loss of 598 from 2015.
- Fall 2016 graduate enrollment is 1,830, a loss of 123 from 2015.
- Fall 2016 new transfer students is 967, a loss of 138 from 2015.
- Fall 2016 international student enrollment is 491, a loss of 14 from 2015.
“Of course, the budget impasse has affected Western,” Thomas said. “Just think about where we could have been in terms of our numbers being up rather than level with freshmen and down overall. Just think of where we could have been in terms of the increases in the numbers if we had gotten a full budget. We did a lot with just a little and it shows that individuals are committed to this institution.”
Despite the state budget impasse, Western is receiving monthly state aid payments as part of the stop-gap spending plan Illinois lawmakers passed in late June to avoid a government shutdown.
He said the university is also receiving student tuition dollars, fees, and housing payments for the fall semester to help pay for operations.