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Students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston walk across campus north of Booth Library this week. The university got mixed news with 10th-day enrollment numbers Friday.

JARAD JARMON, JOURNAL GAZETTE & TIMES-COURIER

CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois University reported Friday that total fall 2017 student enrollment is down by approximately 5 percent, but this is EIU's lowest fall-to-fall headcount decline in six years.

Although total fall enrollment is down from 7,415 students in fall 2016 to 7,030 students now, Eastern also reported that enrollment of traditional transfer students increased by 19 percent, enrollment of first-time domestic graduate students increased by 30 percent, and international undergraduate student enrollment increased by 2 percent. In addition, freshmen retention rates have increased by an additional 4 percent.

Eastern President David Glassman said in a press release that increases in these student populations directly coincide with EIU's efforts to purposefully expand and retain these audiences.

“Graduate, international, transfer and returning freshmen students are all important parts of EIU’s overall enrollment picture. To realize an upward trajectory in these areas demonstrates our efforts to better engage with these populations have been successful, and we will continue to build on that," Glassman said.

Figures provided by Josh Norman, associate vice president for enrollment management, showed that the first-time domestic graduate students increased from 243 in fall 2016 to 316 this fall, traditional transfer students increased from 404 to 480, and international undergraduates increased from 41 to 42. First-year retention rates for freshmen went from 71.3 percent to 74.8 percent.

Total fall 2017 enrollment numbers at Eastern are down by approximately 5 percent, but the university reported that this marks EIU’s lowest fall-to-fall headcount decline in six years.

However, Eastern reported that "sizable increases to EIU’s fall 2018 recruitment numbers seem poised to help offset current fall 2017 reductions." These include a 328 percent upsurge in new freshmen admits and a 123 percent increase in new transfer admits, as well as an 83 percent increase in new freshmen applicants and a 42 percent increase in new transfer applicants.

The 2018 numbers include a 367 percent increase in new freshmen honors admits. Eastern reported that, "Together, the data is indicative of EIU’s success in attracting new and highly qualified students."

"It’s too early to forecast what the enrollment might be for fall 2018, but the goals I have set for undergraduate admissions reflect a 20 percent increase for both new freshman and transfer populations and I am more then confident they will meet goal for the upcoming enrollment cycle," Norman said via email.

Eastern officials have cited several factors they believe have contributed to the varied fall 2017 enrollment outcomes. These factors include a two-year state budget impasse, a smaller pool of high school graduates available to recruit, and an almost decade-long statewide decrease in overall higher education enrollment.

These factors have led to what EIU administrators reported were "unique and exceptional circumstances for Eastern Illinois University, as well as for its Illinois higher education counterparts across the state over the past year."

Eastern reported that it has tried to combat these statewide trends by putting into place a variety of enhanced programs and services targeting planned, incremental growth, including its undergraduate, graduate and international recruitment practices. Further, EIU reported that a unification of EIU’s admissions and marketing enterprise is resulting in more "cohesive and extensive recruitment strategies."

The university also has expanded its array of flexible online undergraduate and graduate degree programs for those with children, careers or busy lifestyles. In addition, Eastern has enhanced an assortment of both its traditional and nontraditional programs.

Norman said in the press release that in areas where enrollment and retention have grown, these planned programmatic improvements were critical to those outcomes.

“However, it’s clear that EIU’s enrollment cycle was adversely impacted by the state’s recent budget instability, and we’ve heard anecdotally that the implementation of the federal travel ban created concerns that likely impacted our international student recruitment efforts as well," Norman said. Still, Norman said he believes the enrollment numbers are encouraging given those broader circumstances.

Norman said Eastern's enhancements to the enrollment management and marketing enterprise have created significant forward momentum that is being felt across campus.

"I look forward to this not only growing, but growing exponentially for our next enrollment cycle, as already evidenced by our current enrollment statistics,” Norman said.

Both Norman and Glassman also said current students, alumni and employees will be encouraged to play more active roles in EIU’s recruitment strategies and enrollment processes by, sharing stories about their own positive EIU experiences with prospective students.

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