New Strategic Enrollment Management Plan to guide university toward stabilization, growth through 2023

University leaders are unveiling today a five-year Strategic Enrollment Management Plan that will guide NIU in attracting and retaining students who represent the diversity of the region, nation and world.

Called “fundamental to the mission and vitality of the university,” the plan will require organization, teamwork, commitment, effort and accountability for a successful outcome.

NIU President Lisa Freeman, Acting Provost Chris McCord and Sol Jensen, vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications, are heralding the plan’s potential to stabilize enrollment against a climate of “significant economic and demographic headwinds.”

The plan projects that enrollment – currently at 17,169 – will drop slightly before climbing to nearly 18,000 students by the Fall 2023 semester, provided external funding remains stable and the strategies described in the plan are enacted. It is estimated that enrollment would be lower by 12 percent (or 1,825 students) by Fall 2023 in the absence of the proposed interventions.

Online students pose the largest growth opportunity, the plan asserts, citing a possibility of recruiting and retaining 1,000 additional distance learners.

“This strategic enrollment management plan establishes goals, strategies and objectives that will guide our efforts to stabilize and grow enrollment over the next five years,” Freeman says. “By meeting sustainable enrollment numbers and closing achievement gaps, we will enhance both the success of students and the financial stability of our university and community.”

“The striking feature of this plan,” McCord says, “is its passionate commitment to our mission of serving the diverse student populations of our region, nation and world, and the grounding of that mission in the complex realities of our environment. It also recognizes that significant effort will be required to stabilize our enrollment at 18,000 students.”

Providing a comprehensive look at NIU’s strengths and challenges in enrollment, the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan identifies a roadmap to achieving three goals.

  • Strengthen our distinctive identity as a public university that combines educational opportunity with student engagement.
  • Achieve student enrollment that respects our mission and values while positioning NIU for fiscal sustainability.
  • Support equitable access, opportunity and success for students from diverse backgrounds where diversity is defined broadly.

Omar Ghrayeb, vice provost for undergraduate studies; Vernese Edghill-Walden, senior associate vice president for Academic Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer; and Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, helped McCord and Jensen to lead the campus-wide collaboration that generated the plan, after President Freeman charged them with developing a comprehensive enrollment management strategy.

It comes at a time when public universities in Illinois and across the country face financial stress amid unreliable and diminishing state support and a greater dependency on tuition, fees and philanthropy.

“At the same time,” the report states, “changing demographics signal that, for the extended future, the university will not be able to rely solely on its traditional recruiting populations of high school graduates and community college transfer students.”

The plan’s recommendations can be summarized as three strategic imperatives: brand penetration; increasing targeted recruitment and improving access; improving undergraduate retention and student success.

A variety of specific actions are proposed to support these imperatives, such as intensified marketing and advertising efforts; expanded financial literacy programming; increased recruitment of students from outside of Illinois, nationally and internationally; targeted actions on achievement gaps; and strengthening advising.  

Bringing the vision to fruition will require teamwork, Jensen says. It also means a commitment to “living and understanding NIU’s brand: This is who we are. These are the students we serve. This is the direction we’re heading.”

“Every single person associated with this university can play a major role in executing this plan. Every single person should think about what they do here – what their work is – and how that can make a positive impact,” Jensen says.

“I include alumni in this; the university is bigger than the campus,” he adds. “Everyone can, and everyone should, have a greater understanding of what NIU is, and live that out in their daily experiences.”

Moving forward, the Strategic Enrollment Management committee will develop implementation tactics and timelines related to each objective; assign those responsibilities to ensure adequate progress; and create working groups that will evolve as the needs of the plan evolve.

Visit www.niu.edu/enrollment-plan to read the full report.

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