FILE - University of Illinois

Students mingle on the Quad of the University of Illinois college campus in Urbana-Champaign.

While some Illinois universities reported declining enrollment, the University of Illinois had a record year.

The state's flagship university had an enrollment of more than 50,000 students for the first time in the school’s history this fall. The university reported enrollment this fall of 51,196.

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the enrollment gains were driven largely by online graduate students.

Other state-funded schools that reported increasing enrollment include Eastern Illinois, which saw a total enrollment increase of more than 3.5 percent. This fall’s total student enrollment was 7,806, compared to last fall’s 7,526. Illinois State University welcomed its biggest freshman class in 33 years. Year over year, the school saw overall enrollment grow 1.2 percent. The total 10-day enrollment this fall was 20,878.

Northern Illinois University's freshman class grew, but the school's overall enrollment fell by about 3 percent. 

"Less than a year after implementing our Strategic Enrollment Plan, a lot of the work has only just begun, but this 10-day report affirms that our analysis and strategies are succeeding in attracting excellent students from diverse backgrounds to NIU," NIU President Lisa Freemen said in a statement.

NIU's total 10-day enrollment this fall was 16,609, the lowest it has been in 50 years. Overall, 10-day enrollment at NIU is down nearly 35 percent compared to the total enrollment in 2006, which was 25,313.

Western Illinois University reported enrollment declined more than 10 percent from last fall. The 10-day enrollment this year was 7,624 students, compared to last fall’s 8,502.  

"While this fall's total new student enrollment has not decreased as dramatically as the last few years, I'm still disappointed in the size of the decline this fall,” Acting WIU President Martin Abraham said.

Looking ahead, Abraham said the school must and will "stop this trend."

"We will turn it around, but we have to develop a new approach and have different ways of thinking," he said. "We cannot continue to do the same thing from years past. Our goal is to have a larger incoming class next fall, and even larger by Fall 2021. It's a tough goal, but I'm confident we will get this done."

Enrollment at Southern Illinois University also declined. Despite the decline, university officials pointed to an increase in freshman and sophomore student retention. Overall enrollment for the school dropped nearly 9 percent. The total 10-day enrollment this fall was 11,695.

"We graduated a relatively large class of nearly 2,600 students in the spring," SIU Chancellor John Dunn said in a statement. "We knew we were starting from a significant deficit at the same time we are reengineering our recruitment and retention efforts."

For university towns, enrollment gains and losses can affect the local economy.

DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Duffy said those communities need to think outside the box. While NIU's enrollment has been trending down for more than a decade, Duffy said the business community has adapted over the years.

Duffy said for the business community declining enrollment means fewer consumers.

"So it has a negative impact," he said.

However, Duffy said local businesses “are being more creative, more efficient and playing to the needs of the community, which obviously changes with the decrease in enrollment.”

Despite NIU's declines in enrollment, Duffy said the overall business community in DeKalb is thriving.

Staff Reporter

A Chicago area radio news veteran, Jim Moran covers statewide issues for The Center Square. Previously, he has worked as a news reporter/anchor and traffic reporter for numerous radio stations across Illinois and the St. Louis metro area.