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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 Continues Downward Trend

Rich Egger

According to figures collected and released by Western Illinois University, student enrollment dropped again this spring. Enrollment at the Macomb campus for the Spring 2019 semester is down about 900 students, or 14% compared to Spring 2018. Western reported a total of 5,645 students taking classes in Macomb this semester.

The number of students taking classes on the Quad Cities campus fell 15% compared to Spring 2018, dropping from 818 to 695.

Western did experience an increase in the number of students taking extension courses, which includes online classes and hybrid courses that offer a mixture of online course material and face-to-face meetings. About 330 more students were enrolled in such programs university-wide this semester compared to last Spring, which is an increase of about 27%.

A university spokesperson said retention rates for new full-time freshmen from the Fall to Spring semesters increased to 86.3% this year compared to 82.5% last year. The university also reports that the total undergraduate retention from Fall to Spring increased to 89.7% this year from 88.9% last year.

But those gains were not enough to offset losses. Overall, the official numbers for the Spring 2019 semester show total student enrollment is down about 700 students -- about 8.2% lower than what Western reported in Spring 2018.   

The total number of students enrolled at Western this semester is 7,893. That figure includes part-time and full-time students at both the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses. As we previously reported, WIU's Fall 2018 semester enrollment was 8,502 students.

Western has been experiencing small year-to-year declines in student enrollment ranging between 1%-3% for more than a decade. But the rate of the decline increased significantly during the two-year state budget impasse and continued after the standoff ended.

In Spring 2015, just a few months prior to the State of Illinois entering into the longest budget stalemate in U.S. history, total student enrollment at Western was recorded at 10,676. Since then Western has lost more than a quarter of its student population while also having to rely more on tuition dollars as state funding has diminished compared to what it was before the impasse.


This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the important issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

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