DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s freshman class has grown by 12%, while overall enrollment dipped by 3%, largely attributed to pandemic-related retention challenges, said university officials of the 10-day enrollment data released Thursday.
“There is so much joy at having the students back,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman in an on-campus interview Thursday from Altgeld Hall. “Looking out and seeing the life on campus, the students going to class, the students posing at the big red NIU letters. Actually I clapped for joy the first time I had to stand in line at Starbucks because it was just so great to see the Holmes Student Center filled with students.”
According to 10-day enrollment numbers released by the university, the 12%, or 238-student jump in freshman enrollment is the largest NIU has seen in two decades. The freshman class is made up of 2,285 students. There was a 30% increase in applications for enrollment this fall.
The 3% overall decrease in enrollment was felt most in those who are the first in their family to go to college, Freeman said, as well as a decline in working professionals who might normally seek an additional degree while holding a full-time job. The decrease is attributed to the many challenges of balancing work, school and life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeman said.
“For example a teacher who’s trying to get a certificate, this is probably not the year for them to really take on extra courses,” Freeman said. “On the undergraduate side, the students who didn’t enroll at the rate we normally see are first generation and first year.”
There are also more students living on campus than there have been in five years, according to the data, with 3,694 students in campus housing.
New master’s program enrollment numbers have grown by 28%, and new doctoral students are up by 22%.
Freeman said there’s also been a jump in international students living in DeKalb, which she said “has always been an amazing community.”
NIU officials Thursday attributed the enrollment numbers to a more holistic approach to admission: This is the first full year, not barring the 2020 pandemic year, where admission applications have not required standardized test scores scores such as SAT or ACT tests. New steps have also been implemented to improve financial aid access and on-campus learning amid the pandemic’s lingering presence.
The university’s merit-based scholarship process has also drawn more students to DeKalb who may not otherwise have access to higher education, offering financial aid to students based on GPA instead. More than half the freshman class, 70%, or 1,614 freshmen, are receiving merit based scholarships, Freeman said.
All of that is in the name of “access and equity,” Freeman said.
With 10 days to go until the newly-extended deadline for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which requires all students and educators in higher education to receive the vaccine as the state grapples with a new viral wave of cases due to the highly contagious delta variant, NIU reports high vaccination numbers.
As of Thursday, about 90% of NIU employees — the university is the city of DeKalb’s largest employer — are fully vaccinated, and more than 80% of students, Freeman said, with 3% of students allowed an exemption due to medical or religious reasons.
Prior to the governor’s executive order, the university had already announced students would be required to receive the vaccine.
“The governor’s announcement mirrored what we were already doing very very closely,” Freeman said. “And those numbers are rising daily, because when I said vaccinated I meant fully vaccinated. The indoor masking is not getting pushback at all. We’re taking this really multi-layered approach.”
Freeman, who heralded the governor and state’s “science-based sensible approach toward public health,” said NIU is also continuing mandatory surveillance testing using the University of Illinois-created SHIELD testing, along with surveillance testing, enhanced sanitation protocols, HEPA filters in the classrooms.
“And then we have the Protect the Pack mindset of do things for each other, take care of each other, if you have symptoms don’t ignore them, get tested,” Freeman said. “And I think those things coming together are going to go a long way. Obviously no one can control the virus but we can control what our community does, and this is a community that cares.”
This is a developing story which will be updated.
Source: The Daily Chronicle