Jun 13, 2022 - Business

Illinois undergraduate enrollment drops

Illustration of a graduation mortarboard with a "skip" symbol on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Illinois undergraduate enrollment dropped 11.2% from spring 2019 to spring 2022.

Why it matters: College enrollment has been declining for nearly a decade, but the pandemic is accelerating the trend, raising concerns about a possible generational shift in higher education.

  • Plus, loss of undergrads means a loss of revenue for universities.

Zoom in: The biggest losses in the state came from two-year and community colleges.

  • At College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, the state's largest community college, officials say full-time enrollment dropped 14.7% from 2018 to 2021.
  • A COD spokesperson attributes it to "health, economics, value proposition, decline in the number of high school graduates, and the outmigration of high school graduates to other states."

Yes, but: The trend is different over at the state's largest four-year colleges, which are seeing a rise in enrollment.

  • University of Illinois in Chicago gained 638 students from fall 2019 to fall 2021 and now has 22,279 undergrads.
  • Northwestern gained 168 undergrads and now has about the same number it did in 2013.
  • University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign had its biggest freshman class ever in 2021-2022, gaining 700 undergraduates from 2019 to 2021 for a total of 34,559.

What they're saying: "Our Illinois Commitment program has been a key factor in helping prospective students understand that an Illinois education is affordable and attainable," says U of I's associate provost for enrollment management, Daniel Mann.

  • "Anecdotally, the university has received a great deal of positive feedback from parents and students about our response to the pandemic," he tells Axios.

The other side: While DePaul saw a slight rise in undergrad enrollment between '19 and '21 and a record-breaking freshman class in 2021, overall enrollment has still declined since 2017.

  • DePaul spokesperson Mary Hansen attributed it to "increased competition for students among universities and declining numbers of college-going students."

The big picture: A recent N.Y. Times story noted similar changes across the nation as many prospective students weigh the benefits of taking on college debt versus entering the workforce.

Percentage change in undergraduate enrollment
Data: National Student Clearinghouse; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
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