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Acting WIU President Focuses On Enrollment During University Assembly

Acting WIU President, Dr. Martin Abraham, speaks during Thursday's University Assembly

Acting WIU President Dr. Martin Abraham took part in his first University Assembly  Thursday morning, delivering a nearly hour-long speech to hundreds of faculty, administrators and staff members in Western Hall on the Macomb Campus and to countless others watching online. The bulk of his time was spent on a single topic.


“Here at WIU, there are three things we need to focus on --- and they are all enrollment,” said Abraham, paraphrasing James Baker when Baker reportedly told President Ronald Reagan there were three things the President needed to focus on in office – and they were all the economy.

Dr. Abraham's full speech at the University Assembly

Western’s enrollment has been steadily declining for more than a decade. According to the university’s website, the fall semester head count has dipped nearly 5,000 students in the past 11 years.

  • Fall 2008 – 13,175 total enrollment
  • Fall 2009 – 12,679 total enrollment
  • Fall 2010 – 12,585 total enrollment
  • Fall 2011 – 12,554 total enrollment
  • Fall 2012 – 12,205 total enrollment
  • Fall 2013 – 11,707 total enrollment
  • Fall 2014 – 11,458 total enrollment
  • Fall 2015 – 11,094 total enrollment
  • Fall 2016 – 10,373 total enrollment
  • Fall 2017 – 9,441 total enrollment
  • Fall 2018 – 8,502 total enrollment (down 36% from Fall 2008)

The total enrollment for the Fall 2019 semester will be calculated after the first two weeks of class are completed.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR

Abraham told the crowd this is the result of fewer new students enrolling at WIU and too many students departing after their first year in Macomb or the Quad Cities.

Abraham pointed to a chart that showed a steep decline in new student enrollment in the past five years. He said that includes a projected decline this fall.

“I’ve put a charge to the admissions folks that when I show you this chart next year, that last bullet point is going to be higher than what the bullet point is for the Fall 2019 semester,” said Abraham. “We are going to turn this around. Our incoming class is going to be bigger next year than it is this year.”

Abraham shed light on another disturbing trend. In the past five years, roughly 33% of Western’s new students have not returned the following year.

“I don’t even care, at the highest end when we were at 69% [retention], that’s not good enough,” said Abraham. “That means that practically 1 out of every 3 students we take in do not come back for their sophomore year. That is not acceptable.”


Abraham has only been on campus for a matter of weeks. He was initially hired in May as the University’s new Provost, effective July 1. But before officially arrived on campus, WIU’s Board of Trustees appointed him Acting president following the departure of Dr. Jack Thomas.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR

So while he was still been getting to know people on campus, Abraham was forming several small committees to explore Western’s challenges with student enrollment and retention.

“It’s not a typical university committee where you study a problem for a year and you think about it and you write a report and hopefully something happens,” said Abraham. “It’s very targeted, very direct. I have a problem. What am I going to do to fix this problem.”

Abraham gave the teams some tight timelines under which to operate. He asked for solid recommendations by mid-September and some preliminary thoughts ahead of his speech, which he shared with those in attendance or viewing the speech online—calling them “Ideas, Initiatives & Actions.”


  • - Enhance and improve the on-campus visit experience
  • - Create a financial strategy to support enrollment
  • - Enhance targeted marketing strategy
  • - Develop innovative course options


  • - Implement and expand early intervention initatives
  • - Campus-wide implementation of GradesFirst platform
  • - Review current academic advising model, best practices and advisor positions
  • - Review and restructure of Math099
  • - Incentivizing REACH (OAS) students
  • - Implement singular University-wide event/engagement calendar

International & Graduate School Enrollment

  • - Recruit through both digital campaigns and travel in India, the Philippines, & Nigeria
  • - Make the admissions process more efficient and timely
  • - For cohort-based graduate programs, develop a Spring cohort
  • - Develop new Master’s programs in key target areas
  • - Develop dual degree programming, combining elements of multiple programs to address specific area needs

Distance Learning

  • - Implement online teaching standards to ensure student success and effective teaching
  • - Flesh out online programs and provide incentives to support the development of identified courses
  • - Provide central service for students enrolled in online classes and/or programs
  • - Consider 24-hour tutoring and tech support
  • - Look for ways to build certificate programs out of existing online courses.

Abraham said these are all big picture ideas without much detail at this point, the results of several weeks of work by the teams he formed. But he says as these ideas become actions that Western can adopt, a boost in enrollment is sure to follow.
“Because we are going to offer the right mix of programs at the right price and give [students] the right school experiences,” said Abraham. “We [will] beat [other schools] out and they will all come here.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.