NORMAL — Illinois State University is expecting increases in overall enrollment and freshman enrollment for the third year in a row at a time when most public universities in the state are struggling to maintain their student numbers.
Aug. 22 was the first day of classes, and preliminary figures show freshman enrollment topping 3,600 and overall enrollment more than 21,000, according to Jay Groves, ISU chief of staff.
“We don't count officially until the 10th day census,” Groves said Wednesday. “I think when 10th day comes out, we'll have something to celebrate.”
Graduate student enrollment also is up, diversity is strong and the academic credentials of incoming students remains substantial, with an average ACT score of 24, he said.
“It's shaping up to be a remarkable year,” Groves said.
University officials have said for years that ISU's enrollment “sweet spot” is about 20,000 to 21,000 students.
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Groves said the 21,000-plus students attending ISU this fall are not a problem.
“We have the classes to accommodate them. We have the housing to accommodate them. We have the faculty and support staff for being at the right ratio and class sizes,” he said.
Speaking Monday about ISU's strong enrollment, university President Larry Dietz said, “Students are voting with their feet, and we have a lot of feet on campus today.”
The growth in enrollment is especially satisfying for ISU “considering last year's economic and political climate” made it difficult for Illinois universities to recruit students, Groves said.
With potential students and their parents raising questions because of the state budget impasse, Groves said, the situation “made us work that much harder to tell the ISU story even stronger.”
Strong freshman enrollment the last two years, coupled with ISU's excellent retention rate have contributed to the university's enrollment growth, Groves explained. Retention is defined as the percentage of students who return after their freshman year.
ISU's retention rate was for first-time college students who started in fall 2014 was 81.5 percent.
In addition to the retention rate, Groves cited ISU's graduation rate, relatively low student debt and ability of graduates to get jobs as factors in its continued strong enrollment.
“That word gets around,” Groves said.
Illinois State has a six-year graduation rate of 73.4 percent, which places it in the top 10 percent nationwide, according to the university. Nationally, the six-year graduation rate at public universities is 56 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.