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NIU attracts new freshmen with innovative financial aid programs

September 20, 2021

NIU’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, adopted in 2019, included a call for the university to identify and pilot innovative financial aid programs.

That work is ongoing – and already paying dividends.

While NIU celebrates the fifth straight year of growth among incoming freshmen, with that specific enrollment sector climbing by nearly 12% this fall over the same time last year, the numbers of students with grants covering tuition and fees through the Huskie Pledge and the new Rockford Promise are also rising.

NIU met the Huskie Pledge for 877 students (39% of incoming freshmen) who will pay no tuition and fees out of pocket for their first year and potentially beyond. That count is more than 20% greater than Fall 2020, and includes 361 graduates of the Chicago Public Schools who helped to contribute to an 11.5% jump in enrollment from the state’s largest district.

Similarly, nearly 100 new freshmen who live in Rockford and graduated from Rockford Public School District 205 qualified for the first year of the Rockford Promise program at NIU.

Both programs require that recipients maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher at NIU to renew their grants each year.

Given their average high school GPAs of 3.53, persistence towards degrees looks achievable.

“A more GPA-based system allows students to have access to financial resources, and it helps give them clarity and more financial stability over the years because it’s not based on year-to-year income changes,” said Samantha McCarron, NIU director of Financial Aid.

“They know they have it, and they know that that as long as they perform, they get to keep it – and that they are fully in control of that,” McCarron added. “I think it goes to support our goals of making education equitable for everyone.”

Indeed, 72% of Huskie Pledge recipients and 79% of Rockford Promise recipients are first-generation college students. Meanwhile, 83% and 59% are students of color, respectively.

Launched at NIU in 2020 to help talented students who might otherwise struggle to afford college and realize their dreams of higher education, the Huskie Pledge enrolled more than 700 freshmen – 35% of the class. The grants are available to students whose family adjusted gross income, or family assets, are $75,000 or less.

Rockford Promise matches talent with opportunity and serves its region by educating the workforce of tomorrow. Students also enjoy mentoring, job-readiness training and access to a community of other area scholars.