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NIU spring enrollment numbers stable despite pandemic

January 29, 2021

Northern Illinois University reported stable enrollment numbers for the spring of 2021 despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. The spring 10-day census showed a 1.3% dip in total enrollment compared to the spring of 2020.

“Considering the extraordinary circumstances of the past year, this is impressive, and it is a tribute to faculty and staff across campus who worked so hard to provide the best experience possible given the circumstances,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram.

Much of the change was due to a 266-student decrease in the fall-to-spring retention of new freshmen, for a retention rate of 87 percent, compared to 90% in spring 2020. “Last spring was the highest retention rate we have posted in at least a decade, so that was a high bar,” Ingram said. “This year’s fall-to-spring retention rate of 87% is precisely in line with the historical average over the past 10 years.”

Also contributing to the change was a 14.5% (71 students) drop in the number of mid-year transfer students. Much of that can be attributed to declining enrollment at community colleges across the state, said Sol Jensen, NIU’s vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications. Over the past five years, he said, the 10 community colleges that traditionally send the most students to NIU have seen their collective enrollment drop nearly 25 percent. “There are significantly fewer transfer students to recruit, and the competition for them is much greater,” he said.

NIU also saw gains in new students. The number of new freshmen who enrolled at NIU mid-year was actually up a dozen students from a year ago, and enrollment in the NIU College of Law jumped 5.2 percent (14 students). Graduate enrollment declined by 1.5%.

Jensen said it is important to note that spring headcounts are not considered a significant indicator of enrollment trends.

“Historically speaking, spring is typically a time of little change, which is essentially the case this year, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the past year,” he said. “We will study these numbers to see what we can learn, but our primary focus will be paying continued attention to the health and well-being of our campus community while moving forward with our Strategic Enrollment Plan and recruiting a strong class for the fall of 2021, when we hope we will be able to offer a much more traditional campus experience.”