UI enrollment: More undergrads, but fewer in-state freshmen

UI enrollment: More undergrads, but fewer in-state freshmen

URBANA — Undergraduate enrollment reached another record high at the University of Illinois' flagship campus this fall, even as the school struggled to attract more in-state students.

Freshman enrollment dropped slightly, as planned, to 7,518, 1 percent below last year's record class of 7,592 students.

Not in the plan: the number of in-state freshmen fell from 5,664 last year to 5,507, even though the UI admitted 400 more Illinois applicants for this fall.

They make up about 73.3 percent of the freshman class, down from 74.6 percent in 2016 and slightly above the 73.1 percent mark recorded in 2015.

Competition from out-of-state schools with generous scholarship packages appears to be the most significant factor in students' decision not to enroll at Illinois, officials said in releasing the admissions numbers Wednesday. Boosting in-state enrollment has been a key priority of the UI's strategic plan.

UI officials don't think the downturn is related to fears about the state's financial future. Other state universities that saw enrollment drop, including Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois, have blamed the two-year budget impasse for scaring away students.

Kevin Pitts, vice provost for undergraduate education at Illinois, said surveys of students who turned down the UI cited cost as the primary reason, and "that's been the case for many years now."

Students were specifically asked about the state budget's impact, and "it was well down the list," Pitts said.

"It really didn't seem like that was something that was driving a lot of the decisions in our case."

The UI admitted more of its applicants this year (61.5 percent, up from 60.1 last year), but saw a drop in its "yield" — the percentage of admitted students who end up enrolling — from 33.2 percent to 31.4, officials said.

Pitts said the in-state enrollment number tends to bounce around from year to year, and it's too soon to say if it's a trend or just a "blip."

To attract more in-state students, the UI has been working to increase financial aid, both need-based and merit-based, and has held tuition flat for three years. Undergraduate scholarships are also a top priority for the fundraising campaign set to kick off in October.

Pitts noted that the UI has one of the highest in-state enrollment percentages in the Big Ten, behind only Rutgers (83.8 percent) and Nebraska (75.2), based on 2015 numbers.

International numbers up

International enrollment, meanwhile, continued its climb, accounting for 1,116 students in the freshman class (14.8 percent), up from 1,039 a year ago (13.6). Freshmen from China rose by two to 716, while the tally from India increased from 117 to 178.

Pitts said the UI didn't originally plan for an increase. The campus maintains a waiting list for international students and sometimes accepts candidates from that list after May 1, the national deadline for domestic students to inform U.S. colleges whether they will accept an offer of admission. This year, the UI admitted 357 international students from the waiting list, and 150 enrolled, according to the Office of Admissions.

"We saw we were going to have a little bit of room because our Illinois residents were down a bit," he said.

The freshman class is still among the top 10 nationwide and exceeded its target of 7,500, according to the UI.

Overall undergraduate enrollment reached a new high of 33,624, surpassing last year's record of 33,523, and total enrollment hit 47,826, up from a record 46,496 students last year.

How much more will it grow? Pitts said the undergraduate totals should level off soon. The campus hopes to boost enrollment primarily through online programs, mostly at the master's degree level, he said.

After years of freshman classes between 6,500 and 7,000, the total has been closer to 7,500 for the past few years. And this year's incoming class is larger than the senior class that graduated last spring, raising the overall undergraduate enrollment, he said.

"If we set a new record next year, it'll be by a handful," he said.


Around the system

Across the UI system, enrollment increased 2.9 percent to 83,321 students, up from 80,987 a year ago and another record high. Those numbers include online students.

The growth was driven by a huge jump at the UI Chicago, which topped 30,000 students for the first time. Enrollment rose 4.9 percent, from 29,120 to 30,539, a new high for the third straight year. Freshman enrollment increased 22.9 percent.

Those numbers boosted the UI system's total of in-state undergraduates by 2.4 percent, to 44,655. Illinois students make up about 80 percent of undergraduates enrolled this fall across the three campuses.

But at the UI Springfield, freshman enrollment dropped 7.3 percent, from 300 to 278, reflecting declines at other state institutions, including Illinois State and Southern Illinois-Carbondale.

The Springfield campus also had 420 fewer international students at the graduate level this year, which it expected. Total enrollment dropped below 5,000, falling 8.7 percent from last year to 4,956.

Across the three UI campuses, African-American and Latino undergraduate student numbers continued to rise, now making up 25 percent of total undergraduate enrollment.

Go figure

The 2017 UI freshman class is more diverse than ever, at least as smart as last year's and heavily represented by Chicago and its suburbs. Of the 7,518 students:

-- 20 percent are from underrepresented backgrounds and 21.9 percent are first-generation college students of all races, both campus records. Among first-timers, 606 are Latino, 422 are white and 223 are black.

-- 995 are Hispanic and 500 are black, compared with 932 and 548, respectively, last year. But 118 students who chose "multiracial" or "Hispanic" as their primary category also identified as black.

-- 2,522 are from Cook County, followed by 704 from DuPage, 562 from Lake, 430 from Will, 192 from Kane and 173 from Champaign County.

-- The average ACT score is 28.5, the same as 2015 and up slightly from 28.4 last year. The average SAT score also rose, to 1390, but it isn't a true comparison because the test changed significantly.

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whatithink wrote on September 13, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Even with paying out of state fees, it's cheaper to go out of state and get a quality education.  But I get some want to attend the #1 party college.

BruckJr wrote on September 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I question how 500 African-American students can be more than 548 from the previous year.  Must be that new math.

"Among freshmen, 995 are Latino and 500 are African-American, up from 932 and 548, respectively, last year."

Julie Wurth wrote on September 14, 2017 at 10:09 am
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That reference has been corrected, thanks.