UI officials weigh raising systemwide enrollment goal to 100,000

UI officials weigh raising systemwide enrollment goal to 100,000

URBANA — With record-setting enrollment expected this year, the University of Illinois may be looking to expand even more.

Provosts at the UI's three campuses have drafted plans to beef up enrollment, possibly to the target of 100,000 students floated by President Tim Killeen a year ago.

But a good chunk of it could be online.

It's part of a strategic enrollment-planning effort coordinated by former Vice President for Academic Affairs Christophe Pierre.

Killeen said this week he's preparing a report for UI trustees on the subject in November, part of a series of updates on the university's "Strategic Framework" completed earlier this year.

He wouldn't provide details but said the provosts looked department by department at capacity, facilities, costs and student demand to see where growth would be feasible over the next five years.

"Each university has a distinctive path — some with an emphasis on distance education, some international, some master's programs — all with an eye to impacting Illinois," he said. "I'm very impressed with the thought that's being put into play."

The UI has more than 76,000 students on its three campuses (plus about 4,000 online), with roughly 44,000 at the Urbana campus. Enrollment at Urbana has grown by more than 4,000 in the last decade.

Regarding the 100,000 threshold, Killeen said, "I think we're on a path that might get there in a sensible way. It's not overnight. I'm looking right now at a five-year plan."

The Urbana campus draft plan relies heavily on growth in online programs, said Charles Tucker, vice provost for undergraduate education and innovation.

"We're pretty close to what we think is capacity for residential undergraduates," Tucker said.

Killeen asked the campuses to draw up three plans — increasing the number of degrees awarded by 10 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent over five years, and then indicate which one they favored, Tucker said. Urbana opted for 20 percent, but Tucker didn't specify an exact number.

The provost surveyed the colleges about their plans and spoke with the deans during annual budget discussions about enrollment strategy — "capacities, aspirations, how it figures into the financial picture and so forth," Tucker said.

"When we shook it all down to the things that looked most doable, they really focused on graduate-level programs and, not exclusively but heavily, online," Tucker said.

Killeen: Quality first

In particular, the hope is to substantially expand enrollment in two online programs launched in partnership with the online provider Coursera — the iMBA program and a master of computer science in data science. Together, they'd account for two-thirds of the projected growth in degrees awarded.

Other growth would come in conventional online programs run entirely by the campus — in information science, labor and employment relations and others — as well as on campus, in areas such as social work and the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, he said.

The plans would cover a five-year period starting next summer, through 2022.

Tucker said the Urbana campus is sized for the current population of about 33,000 undergraduates — from residence halls to classrooms, libraries, dining rooms and recreational facilities, he said.

"If we greatly increase the number of undergraduates on campus, we have to increase so many things," he said.

And the programs that are in the highest demand, including engineering, are "pretty well chock full of students," unless the campus adds more faculty, classrooms and other support facilities, he said. And that costs money.

In fact, the campus agreed to be more "judicious" in accepting both business and engineering students this year because of capacity issues, he said.

The campus hasn't determined whether to make the investment to expand those programs, he said, noting that it's "grown a lot" over the last decade already.

Faculty members had also expressed concern about hurting the UI's selectivity if it accepts more students without increasing the number of applications.

Killeen emphasized that the UI would not sacrifice quality for growth.

"That's clearly in the thinking on all three campuses," he said.

'We're filled'

Killeen said this year's enrollment numbers are "strong" across the three campuses, though official 10-day numbers won't be released until next week.

"At this time of budget duress, it's not a bad place to be," he said.

He said enrollment is up for both Illinois residents and underrepresented minority students, both areas he had highlighted for improvement.

The number of Illinois residents at the Urbana campus had declined for a decade before rebounding last year, and they now make up about 73 percent of the student body (24,329 of the 33,243 undergraduates). In 2004, almost 90 percent of freshmen were from Illinois.

First-day enrollment numbers this year show a record 7,600 freshmen at the Urbana campus so far. Freshman applications were up 10 percent, to more than 37,000, also a record.

"We're filled. The residence halls are bursting," interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said earlier this week.

About 84 freshmen had to move into temporary housing because enrollment exceeded the 7,500 target, though that's down from 300-plus last year, before the new Wassaja Hall opened, said housing Director Alma Sealine. They'll be moving into permanent rooms starting this weekend, she said. The residence halls hold 11,000 students.

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Reykjavik wrote on September 02, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Interest in larger enrollments is driven by the quest for additional revenue with the hope that quality will not be degraded, possibly even enhanced.  

Using rough numbers, an additional 20k students at $20k/head brings in an additional $800M.  How much does it cost to teach, house, advise these 20,000 students?  Much less than $800M? 

Other implications:

Good for C-U, I guess (more apartment towers).

Bad for some of Illinois's other state universities (SIU, Western, ..)

andrewscheinman wrote on September 02, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Yes although they seem to be talking online more than warm bodies in person.

Online is certainly a way to get even more productivity out of faculty and non-faculty teachers, whether it makes for quality learning is a different question.  I don't know that there's any real answer to that, the appeal is obvious enough.

It's interesting how that would fit in with the foreign student population, would there be online for anyone in the world?