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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Enrollment Down Nearly 9% at Western Illinois University


The WIU administration blames the uncertainty caused by the two year state budget impasse for this year's drop in enrollment.

“When the budget impasse extended beyond the end of the fiscal year and was not resolved by June 30, and given the length of the impasse, students and their parents were concerned about public higher education in Illinois, and many made their college decisions before the budget impasse resolved,” said WIU President Jack Thomas in a news release issued Friday morning.

He said the enrollment decline “comes as no surprise” and said it could have been much worse, given the situation with the state.

Ron Williams, WIU Vice President for Student Services, concurred, and told Tri States Public Radio he hoped the worst of the problems caused by the state budget uncertainty are over.

“We’re just looking forward to the future. At least we have a budget now. We have some means in which to do some planning and to make some projections and just to move forward,” Williams said.

This fall’s total enrollment at WIU is 9,441, with 8,109 students enrolled at the Macomb campus and 1,332 enrolled in the Quad Cities.  Undergraduate enrollment is 7,599 while graduate student enrollment is 1,842.

Enrollment has trended down at Western throughout this decade:

  • Fall 2010:  12,585
  • Fall 2011:  12,554
  • Fall 2012:  12,205
  • Fall 2013:  11,707
  • Fall 2014:  11,458
  • Fall 2015:  11,094
  • Fall 2016:  10,373
  • Fall 2017:  9,441

Credit Panoramic photo by Rich Egger
Sherman Hall is the administration building at WIU

What’s Next?

Western would like to stabilize its enrollment at 10,000, at least for the short term.  Williams thinks that can be accomplished through recruitment and retention. He said Western this year created the position of Academic Support Coach to help students stay in school.

“An academic coach helps students to prepare academic plans for success. (Students) that may have had some academic challenges in the past.  She meets with those students every two weeks. So it’s an additional layer to an academic adviser,” Williams said. 

He said students don’t have to wait to be referred to the academic support coach.  He said any student who feels he/she is struggling academically can reach out to the coach for assistance.

Williams said other retention efforts include mentoring programs and the First Year Experience (FYE) program.  He said WIU has also expanded its Living-Learning Community, in which students with the same major live together in the residence halls.

“Those students study together, they make friends, there’s a sense of home which helps retention,” Williams said.

He said Western has expanded its recruitment efforts, with recruiters spending more time at high schools.  And the university still has a goal of recruiting and enrolling 1,000 international students per school year, though it’s far short of that goal right now with 459 international students this fall.