Fall figures show positive trends despite overall enrollment decline

September 11, 2018

Small increases in newly enrolled freshmen and grad students set the stage for growth

Northern Illinois University welcomed 1,856 new freshmen to campus for the 2018-19 academic year, comparable to last fall when the university had its largest freshman class in six years.

Many of the university's enrollment categories improved. The number of new freshmen, new master's degree students and new doctoral students all grew slightly from last year. NIU also saw increases in the number of new students enrolling in online classes and at off-campus locations.

"We're pleased to add to the Huskie community and see stable results in multiple enrollment categories," said Sol Jensen, NIU's vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications who joined NIU in June 2017. "We're right where we anticipated to be in our efforts to build a multi-year plan to grow sustainable awareness and interest in NIU and to attract diverse and strong student talent from across the nation, while maintaining our commitment to affordability.

"NIU provides students with tremendous opportunities for hands-on learning and individual attention from our outstanding faculty," Jensen added. "We believe that is a unique and attractive combination, and we will be aggressively marketing those opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students."

On campus, programs demonstrating growth were Management, Operations Management and Information Systems, Computer Science, Elementary Education , Electrical Engineering, Human Development & Family Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Music, Theatre, Music and Public Health.

"Building upon our strong course catalog are new programs for undergraduates to study high-demand fields such as biomedical engineering and mechatronics. For graduate students, we now offer a new online master's programs in digital marketing and data analytics," Jensen said.

One additional area of growth is in university diversity. Among new freshmen, the numbers increased for African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic students. For new transfers, the numbers increased for African-American and Hispanic students.

"NIU is committed to inclusive excellence and is proud to welcome a diverse student body that represents our region and state," said Acting President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman. "We firmly believe that a thriving culture of innovation and creativity is best driven by a community of diverse people, beliefs and talents, and we're actively recruiting students, faculty and staff to strengthen our university."

The academic profile of this year's class continued the recent trend of year-over-year improvement with about 2 percent more students from the top quartile of their high school graduating classes and 2 percent more from the top 50 percent. The grade point average and composite ACT scores for incoming students also inched up slightly from a year ago.

While the one-year retention rate for freshmen remained at 73 percent, and the one-year retention rate for transfer students increased to 83 percent, the total headcount on campus decreased by 873 students. The university's official fall enrollment is 17,169, a decline of 4.8 percent compared to last fall. As has been the case in recent years, much of the decline was due to an incoming class that does not offset the losses created by a large graduating class. That trend is expected to continue through next fall.

NIU also saw a decline of 8 percent overall in new transfer students. To address this trend, the university is increasing availability of scholarships and financial aid to attract transfer students by making "With opportunities like the state's AIM HIGH grant program and the NIU Foundation's robust scholarship campaign, NIU intends to deploy more merit and need-based aid to transfer students in the future," said Dr. Freeman.

In addition to holding tuition costs for the past four years, new leadership within the NIU admissions team has redefined recruiting tactics, revitalized marketing materials and upgraded technological tools. While not fully implemented in time to influence this year's numbers, strategies such as eliminating out-of-state tuition are part of the long-term plan to increase NIU's regional and national competitiveness.


Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.

Media Contact: Joe King
Phone: 815-762-7425

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