Spring semester enrollment is lagging well behind last year’s pace at most Bloomington-Normal colleges and universities.
Illinois State University enrollment head Jana Albrecht said enrollment is down 6%.
"We've been making progress on that percentage that we're down. I do think we are making up some ground," said Albrecht, noting ISU began registration a week later than it did last year.
ISU was down 1.2% for the fall term. Albrecht said that was expected to carry through to the second semester.
Heartland Community College is earlier in the enrollment process than ISU and is still recovering from a devastating cyberattack that delayed the start of enrollment. Heartland enrollment head Sarah Diel-Hunt said the school is 35% below what enrollment was last year at this time. Other community colleges also are significantly down compared to this time last year, though slightly less than Heartland, Diel-Hunt said. Usually, HCC enrollment performs slightly better than the statewide community college average, she said.
But Diel-Hunt said she's hopeful.
"I think everyone is in a wait-and-see mode and with the recent news about vaccination that could be coming, I think this may be starting to be seen as short term," she said..
Albrecht agreed, but noted there alsos is a multiyear trend of students waiting longer to register in any given signup period. That can make it difficult to compare annual numbers.
ISU is still surveying why students have not yet registered. Albrecht said financial pressures are always a factor in decisions to not re-register.
"But I think COVID has exacerbated mental health issues, and I do think some students have trouble with an online platform," she said, adding there is anecdotal information that the other Illinois public university enrollments are down as well.
Every 100 students equates to about $1 million in revenue for ISU. If the current enrollment trend holds through the close of registration and the start of next semester, it would create a budgetary impact of about $9 million. But Albrecht cautioned it won't be that damaging because ISU will make up some of the difference and there will be late registrations at the start of the term.
If trends don't improve, however, both institutions could have to address budget shortfalls.
Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, meanwhile, said its enrollment is holding steady for the spring term.
"We anticipated that some students would go home and maybe stay enrolled and take classes virtually and save themselves the housing expense," said Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall. "And we're seeing a little bit of that, but not as much as we might have expected. And we're actually seeing a number of students who stayed home this fall make a decision to come back to campus this spring."
She said that response may reflect the confidence students have in IWU's health protocols.
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