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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.

WIU Enrollment Down but Better than Expected

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TSPR
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Student enrollment at Western Illinois University this fall is down 10% from last year with a total student enrollment of 8,502 for both the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses.

Ron Williams, Western Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, said WIU is working to stop the decline and stabilize enrollment. He told Tri States Public Radio it’s not helpful to compare enrollment to the past.

“There’s a lot that has happened and we try to be as optimistic as possible and not continue to focus on the past, but we do have to take a shot of the past in order to chart a course for the future,” Williams said. “So while we are not pleased at where enrollment is, we are pleased that we are ahead of where we thought we were going to be.”

Williams said early estimates in March predicted new freshman enrollment would be around 800. That figure was based off of the number of students who been accepted to the university and already committed to Western. But, he said Western surpassed that estimate and ended up with 934 new freshman attending this semester.  

“I’m grateful we have more students than we anticipated,” Williams said.

 
Student enrollment has been on the decline at Western for the last decade, and the University saw a significant drop during the two-year state budget impasse and its aftermath.

“I certainly hope we are on our way up. The university has done a lot within the last year in order to, we believe, stabilize enrollment and increase it over a number of years,” Williams said.

He considers a 10% drop in student enrollment this fall over last year an issue,and said he is not ignorning it. But he said he would rather focus on the positive.

“I think we want to remain realistic and remain just really honest about where we are as an institution. It would do a disservice to our university and to our community and to the larger region to make these statements and enrollment and using numbers from four or five years ago,” Williams said in response to a question about whether this is a new normal for Western.

Williams said the number of applicants and the acceptance rate have gone down only slightly. He said Western is maintaining its academic standards despite student enrollment declines. The average GPA and ACT scores of incoming students were both up slightly.

“We have really held fast to the academic standard and value here at the university,” Williams said.

Previously, WIU President Jack Thomas has discussed plans to stabilize enrollment at 10,000 students.

Williams said he would like to get back up to that level, but he said it can’t be done in a single year and he’s not developed a timeline yet as to when that can be accomplished.  

WIU did not immediately have student retention information available as part of the 10 day student enrollment numbers.

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