UI's added capacity can handle record class

URBANA — This year's freshman class of 7,331 is almost 400 students larger than in fall 2012, but a University of Illinois official says that hasn't led to overcrowded classrooms or residence halls.

The Urbana campus had already hired additional instructors this semester for core undergraduate courses such as composition and languages as part of an initiative to improve faculty-student ratios and the classroom experience for students.

"We had added a lot of capacity," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

And residence halls have lounges that are easily converted into dorm rooms if needed, she said.

"Certainly in 2005 we had some challenges," when freshman enrollment peaked at more than 7,500, but so far, "that hasn't been a problem," Kaler said.

Why the increase this fall? More students applied, more students were accepted, and more than anticipated ended up choosing the UI, Kaler said. As The News-Gazette reported Tuesday, the number bumped this year's total campus enrollment to its highest point ever, 43,398, with a record 32,294 undergraduates.

The admissions office had initially predicted a freshman class of 7,100. Admissions Director Stacey Kostell said the goal is determined each year by analyzing historic yield rates and recent trends.

"There's not one target. It's all college by college," Kaler said.

A record 33,201 students applied for 2013-14, and while the campus was more selective — the acceptance rate dropped from 63 percent to 62 percent — that led to 784 more students being admitted: 20,738 versus 19,954 last year. The yield, or percentage of those admitted who actually enrolled, was also up slightly, to 35.3 percent from 34.8 percent last year.

Projecting the size of the freshman class is "always a bit of a dance," Kaler said.

Students who enroll say they choose the UI for its strong academics and a breadth of disciplines, so they can switch majors if they change their minds, Kaler said. For those who choose another school, the reason usually involves finances, she added.

"Maybe the financial picture (this year) is more attractive than in the past," she said.

Base annual in-state tuition at the UI is $11,834, though some students pay $16,000 or more with college surcharges. More than half of all undergraduates take out loans, graduating with an average debt of more than $24,000.

Illinois students make up about 73 percent (5,317) of the 2013-14 freshman class; 16 percent (1,173) are international students, and 11 percent (841) come from other states. Besides Illinois, the top four contributing states are California (176), New Jersey (86), Virginia (50) and New York (41).

The class is also more diverse and has higher test scores than last year's freshman cohort.

The average ACT score is 28.6, slightly higher than 2012, and the average SAT score rose from 1337 to 1344. More than half of the new students — 54.5 percent — were ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school.

"Clearly, students recognize the value of an Illinois education and want to be a part of our rich tradition of excellence," Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a statement.

Wise was also pleased with the diverse makeup of the class, which comprises 100 nations and every state.

"Coming to Illinois is a great opportunity for students to know and be a part of the global community," Wise said. "I'm encouraging students to go outside of themselves and reach out to someone who is different than they are."

Underrepresented minorities make up 16.1 percent of the class, a 1 percent increase over last year. Counting Asian-Americans, that percentage is 33.1 percent.

Nearly 22 percent of freshmen are the first in their families to attend college, a slight increase from last year. That means "one in five students don't really have a parent who's been through this experience," Kaler said, so the campus has to ensure they have access to resources to help them complete their degrees.

The top enrollment centers for this year's freshman class are in science, technology, engineering and math.

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