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WIU Boosts Recruitment Efforts to Combat Declining Enrollment

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas said declining student enrollment is one of the biggest problems the university faces.

“That’s been a challenge for us for a decade now,” Thomas said. “We have been putting things in place to try and make sure we try to stabilize our enrollment.”

11,458 students are enrolled at Westernthis fall, 249 fewer than one year ago -- a 2.1% decline.

In response to the enrollment slide, the administration is greatly increasing recruitment efforts. Over the coming months, recruiters will visit about 1,400 high schools and community colleges across a five state region that includes Iowa and Missouri.

Thomas said increasing competition from both in-state and out-of-state colleges is putting the pressure on Western to reach out to more prospective students.  

“You have just as many institutions coming to our state to recruit our students just as we are, and we find ourselves trying to be just as competitive in other states. So that’s what we have to do as well. We often meet to talk about how we are going to be competitive and what is it about us that makes us different than other institutions.”

Western recently opened a recruitment office staffed with two counselors in East St. Louis in hopes of targeting students in the area,

“We haven’t really been in that area before,” Thomas said. “There are over 4,000,000 people in the St. Louis metropolitan area and we want to go after those quality students in that area.”

On the plus side, Thomas said student retention rates are up at Western with nearly 72.2% of freshman returning to campus for their second year.  That’s up from 63% last year.

There were also 141 more international students enrolled this fall. That group has grown to include 511 students.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.