CHARLESTON — Brenda Major’s nine-year career as the director of admissions at Eastern Illinois University is coming to a close in May.
If Major had her choice she said she would continue serving in her current position at Eastern, but as an at-will employee of the university her employment can be terminated at anytime.
“Looking at the enrollment numbers they are starting to recover,” Major said. “My choice would have been to stay for a couple more years to make sure that that trend continues.”
However, Major said in the last few years there has been urgency from the community for change — specifically in enrollment — within the university.
“I think the response particularly in the surrounding communities suggests that they would like to see some immediate change, and so a new director hopefully will be the new beginning to whatever that change is that takes place,” Major said.
Eastern Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Blair Lord said there is no specific reason to pinpoint or person to blame for declining enrollment at the university.
“There is no single reason why Eastern has seen a multi-year decline in the number of new freshmen and transfer students it has been able to attract,” Lord said. “In like manner, there is no single individual, office or even division solely responsible or in control of all the factors affecting student choice. In fact, many offices spread among each of our four divisions are involved in and can influence recruitment. It remains accurate, however, to observe that until this fall, Eastern had experienced five consecutive years of declining new freshmen enrollment.”
Enrollment this fall at Eastern Illinois University is down more than 600 students from a year ago, according to figures released Sept. 4 from Eastern.
Total enrollment at the university for fall 2013 adds up to 9,775, compared to the total of 10,417 in fall 2012, according to an Eastern press release.
The college has 8,726 students on campus currently and an off-campus count of 1,049. Those numbers a year ago were 9,255 and 1,162, respectively.
Lord, who made the decision to search out a replacement for Major for the 2014 school year, said although the university is going in a different direction for the position he said Major served the university well in her nine years as the director of admissions.
“Ms. Major has been a tireless worker deeply committed to EIU,” Lord said.
A search advisory committee has been appointed in order to hire a new director of admissions, according to Lord.
In order to help increase enrollment and retention at Eastern, the university has a two-year contract with a consulting firm called Noel-Levitz.
“We have been making many changes to our procedures and strategies to recruit and admit students aimed at reversing our long-running decline,” Lord said. “Ms. Major has been committed and dedicated to this process. It is my hope and expectation that the next director of admissions will take us to a new level of success in our recruitment and admissions efforts.”
Major said leaving Eastern after nine years is bittersweet.
“It makes it difficult when you really love your job and you really love where you do it,” Major said. “Do I fault the university? No. Everybody wants to come in and meet goals. While there are a number of reasons why those goals are not met every year I can see why people who don’t understand that would say ‘what the heck is she doing?’”
According to Major, many Illinois universities are seeing a trend in decreasing enrollment because of the economy and competition from out of state universities, among other factors.
“Illinois is the fourth largest exporter of college prepared students because there are a lot of bright students in Illinois and a lot of other states want them,” Major said.
Bringing up enrollment is something Major said takes time.
“This new person cannot just turn the enrollment around and make everyone on and off campus happy,” Major said. “The campus and the community need to work with the office of admissions in order to see that enrollment increase.”
Throughout her nine years at Eastern, Major said she feels she has done her best in the position and said she has been grateful to her staff and all the work they put into making the university a better place every day.
“Every year I hope that our efforts mean we are closer to our enrollment goals,” Major said. “It’s frustrating because I know how hard my staff works to get those numbers, but I also have to look at it from the other perspective that is that those enrollment goals aren’t met and you need someone to point to — I’m that person because that’s just the nature of the position.”
Major, who is originally from Chicago, has held an array of positions in the field of university admissions at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Millikin University and Eastern.
Major is currently searching for a job in the same field that she loves, but said at this time it is uncertain where her job search will take her.
“I love working in a college setting, and I really do love guiding students who may not have even thought college was possible and then watching them graduate and watching them move on to do great things,” Major said. “I think my two favorite days of the year are move in day and commencement because it goes full circle for what these students can do.”
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