Illinois Wesleyan University has reported a 9% increase in freshmen enrollment for the fall term.
The snapshot taken after the 15th day of classes also recorded total enrollment of 1,636, the same as last year. IWU brought 487 new students to campus, up 41 students from last year’s freshman class.
“As many universities across the country face significant enrollment declines amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are especially pleased to be breaking this trend with a larger-than-expected group of diverse, accomplished students,” said President S. Georgia Nugent. “The strength of this class underscores the value of an Illinois Wesleyan educational experience and the personal attention our faculty and staff provide each student – whether they opted to pursue their courses in person, online, or with hybrid delivery this fall.”
In 2019 IWU enrollment dropped 3% from 2018 and enrollment that year was down 1% from 2017. As recently as 2017, IWU's enrollment was 1,700--at the time the lowest student count since 1988.
IWU Admissions Dean Greg King said they were running ahead of pace the entire spring recruitment season. That runs counter to the national trend in which many students delayed making decisions because of the uncertainty surrounding delivery of courses during the pandemic.
“I think we did a great job in March taking as many components of our in-person campus visits as we could to the virtual world,” said King. “I think our faculty did an amazing job of connecting with all of our admits virtually many times, jumping on Zoom calls with us and describing their programs to students.”
IWU did not buy more students by bumping up aid. King said total student scholarship assistance was flat compared to the previous year.
King said the pandemic has accelerated changes in the way higher education does business. He said IWU will continue the virtual visits he credits for an increase in the number of states from which new students have come.
“This year because of the number of students who were unable to take the ACT or SAT we are going to have our first year of test-optional admissions. In place of the test we’ll have a required essay and an interview either in person or virtual with me or with an admissions counsellor,”
That follows the national trend. King said they had looked at national data and were close to making that call anyway when the pandemic hit.
Virtual aspects will stay and a lot should.
This time of year, we would be visiting as many high schools in Illinois and the Midwest as we could. Now they are all virtual visits and students either during lunch or their schools might not even be in are jumping on virtual calls with us,” said King.
He said those aspects of recruitment will stay on after the pandemic because they found a lot of efficiencies and cost savings.
“Picture three months of trying to visit every high school and then claw that back, not having to pay for gas and hotels. It adds up pretty significantly,” said King
Earlier this year, the IWU administration promised the campus to do more to address diversity issues. The incoming class includes 131 students who self-identify as students of color, IWU said in a statement. That is 27% of the total class and represents the third-most diverse class of students in university history, according to IWU.
In recent years, IWU also has tried harder to keep Bloomington-Normal high school graduates in the community for college by increasing financial assistance to that cohort. IWU said a record-high total of 58 new students from McLean County enrolled this fall, a 38% increase over last year’s McLean County new-student total.
“We just finished our third year of the McLean County Scholarship. I think it’s just more widely known. We’ve seen an uptick in applications, admits, and commitments. If you look at the 2017 number as we were conceptualizing the idea to the 2020 number we have double the applications and double the admits and almost double the commitments,” said King.
“The Illinois Wesleyan Associates continue to invest deeply in the future of local students.” Nugent said. “Over the past three years, the number of talented McLean County students who have chosen to pursue their undergraduate degree locally at Illinois Wesleyan has increased significantly.”
Transfer numbers also increased by 35%, with 42 new transfer students.
IWU noted its retention rate of 90% is 12% above the national retention rate, according to College Scorecard data.
Illinois State University is expected to release its 10-day enrollment numbers next week. Preliminary enrollment numbers at Heartland Community College were down 8% over last year, which is line with state and national trends, and sharply down among minority and first-generation college students.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.