CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — While the University of Illinois and Illinois State University have more freshmen enrolled this fall, other public universities are reporting declines, which they say they’ve anticipated as a result of the state’s budget crisis.
The leader of at least one of those schools, Eastern Illinois University, said this week that his campus needs to look for ways to improve its own finances and be less dependent on the state.
At least four of the state’s 12 public universities said last spring that they expected fewer freshmen due to declining numbers of applications and had fielded numerous inquiries from parents and students about the viability of their campuses due to delays in state funding. Democratic lawmakers and GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner haven’t agreed on a state budget for last fiscal year or the current one, but eventually provided partial higher education funding late last school year.
Now, the numbers are in: EIU reported Thursday a 25 percent drop in freshman enrollment at 1,251; overall enrollment was off 2.6 percent to 7,415. Earlier this week, Western Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University all said they have lower overall and freshman enrollment.
EIU laid off more than 400 employees last school year as it and other state universities scrambled to get by without state funding for months. On Wednesday, President David Glassman told faculty and staff at the Charleston campus the school needs to raise enrollment while living with larger ratios of students to faculty and look for niches where the school can thrive. EIU has, for instance, increased its enrollment of higher-paying international students the past year.
“We learned an important civics lesson this past year,” Glassman said, according to a copy of his address. “And if for nothing else, we now know for sure that a fragile dependency on the state for EIU’s viability is a shaky proposition.”
A few schools, including financially troubled Chicago State University, have not yet reported fall enrollment figures. But other universities, while acknowledging their own difficulties created by the lack of state money, reported enrollment increases this fall.
The University of Illinois said Thursday that on-campus enrollment at its Urbana-Champaign campus is up 1.8 percent to 44,880 and freshman enrollment is up slightly to a record 7,592. The Springfield campus reported a 1 percent enrollment increase to 3,483 and an 11.9 percent freshman boost to 300. Freshman enrollment at the Chicago campus dropped 5.1 percent to 3,307. Overall enrollment was up less than 1 percent to 28,710.
While the cost of four years at the flagship campus is more than $100,000, President Timothy Killeen attributed some of the system’s continued enrollment strength to two straight years of tuition freezes for in-state students. He said he plans to recommend a third year.
Illinois State University has record overall enrollment this fall — up 1.1 percent to 21,039.
The relatively low rates of debt that the school’s students graduate with and strong job placement rates helped, ISU President Larry Dietz said earlier this week in an interview, particularly when he and others fielded calls from concerned parents.
He said lawmakers and the governor need to settle on a budget and provide full funding for state universities soon.
“Some institutions weren’t sure they could make it through the year last year,” he said. “We need (a budget) sooner rather than later to address this kind of crisis of confidence the parents have.”
This story has been updated to correct the current University of Illinois on-campus enrollment figure for Urbana-Champaign.