President Gibson’s Plan for Tackling Decreasing Enrollment

Amaris E. Rodriguez, Opinions Editor

Enrollment at NEIU has been steadily decreasing over the years causing concern. President Gloria J. Gibson addressed the NEIU community on Nov. 27, 2018 stating that finding a solution to enrollment rates is a top concern. “I have to be very clear in saying that our enrollment numbers are not good. They do not meet my expectations, especially as we look at our enrollments for first year students,” she said.

NEIU’s enrollment of undergrad and graduate students has dropped 2,172 in the last four years. In fall 2018, enrollment was 8,103 and in fall 2014, total enrollment was 10,275.

In efforts to address the enrollment issue, Interim Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services, Dr. John Fraire, was hired by NEIU to aid in the reversal of the enrollment decline. He started his position on Nov. 1, 2018.

Fraire has served as vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Portland State University and as the vice president for student affairs and enrollment at Washington State University where he assisted in increasing the freshmen class enrollment by almost 30 percent during his time.  

Fraire said to the Independent through email correspondence that communication plays a role. Fraire said, “It is more critical that we communicate better with those who are already interested in NEIU, those who are already applying and getting admitted. A large number of admitted students who do not enroll at NEIU do not go to college at all. We need to make sure those students come to NEIU.”

According to Fraire, Gibson has already stepped out into the community. “Dr. Gibson herself has visited a number of Chicago public high schools and community colleges, and is leading an effort to rebuild NEIU’s relationship with our feeder schools,” he said.

NEIU has continuously tried to improve its marketing efforts to prospective students, including the “150 Strong” commercial which aired on Super Bowl Sunday 2018. Moving forward, Fraire stated the university is hoping to study prospective students to learn how to better reach them.

“NEIU admissions is about to implement the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in communicating with prospective students. We are also improving our understanding of prospective students’ behavior by studying their behavior on the NEIU website,” he said.

This new course of action to address low enrollment rates also hopes to have more involvement from not only enrollment services but faculty as well. Fraire said, “I hope we can continue to involve faculty with the direct recruitment of students. For example, while admissions and enrollment services still host big open house events, I think NEIU is better served if visiting groups of students get the opportunity to meet and interact with a college professor, and sit in on a class.”

Fraire was not able to address questions on why he believed enrollment is decreasing at NEIU, how long the university has to increase enrollment numbers before it is placed in a financial crisis, or how NEIU plans to budget to maintain faculty and staff if those enrollment rates do not increase and advised that the Independent contacted Director of Strategic Communication Mike Hines.

In an email to the Independent, Hines acknowledged Gibson’s efforts to reach out to the community. He said, “President Gibson has consistently expressed a strong sense of urgency to reverse the trend of declining enrollment. She has devoted time, resources and energy to tackling this problem… President Gibson has also worked hard to engage with alumni, who serve as some of the University’s best ambassadors. All of these efforts are a high priority as we reinforce the value of a degree from Northeastern Illinois University.”

Recent costs associated with the university low residency rates at the Nest have brought up the issue of enrollment rates once again. The Independent asked Hines if NEIU still considers the Nest a wise investment to which he answered, “The Nest was the fulfillment of the University’s strategic plan that was finalized in 2015. We know that students who participate in residential life perform better academically and feel more connected with the university community. We’re very pleased that students who have lived in the Nest have given overwhelmingly positive reviews about their experiences. Residence hall occupancy is strongly correlated with freshman enrollment trends, so we would expect to see an increase in occupancy as enrollment numbers climb.”

Fraire will be talking about enrollment during NEIU’s Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 14.