Opinion: We are hosting them, why aren’t we attracting them?

Joseph Palomares, Writer

Northeastern Illinois University hosted the annual Regional Chicago Public High School Science Fair on Jan. 17 at Alumni Hall.  As a transfer student in my second semester at NEIU, I believe the purpose of the collaboration between NEIU and CPS should be to increase brand awareness and provide an enjoyable space for these high schoolers during their short stay on campus. 

However, despite frequenting our university while attending high school-sanctioned events, it seems visitors don’t consider NEIU a viable option for higher education.  NEIU must consider whether the investment is worth the return and, if not, must mobilize an effort to recruit prospective students–the very same ones we are playing host for–to attend NEIU post-graduation. 

As I walked throughout Alumni Hall, examining the various science project exhibits, I took it upon myself to conduct an in-person survey by asking each highschool student, “From what you’ve experienced here today and your background knowledge of our university, would you attend NEIU? Yes, no or maybe? What are your thoughts?” 

The results were the following:

Answer to the Question  Would you attend NEIU? 
Yes 6 High Schoolers
No  15 High Schoolers
Maybe 4 High Schoolers 


Students who responded yes cited short commutes, minimization of student debt, family and friends, diversity and familiarity as the primary reasons they would consider NEIU.

Based on the general statements of the students who answered “yes,” it seems NEIU’s most appealing attribute is affordability. Being able to fit that niche of affordability is attractive to students who are aware of the cost, but there are limitations to NEIU’s strategy because age demographics may vary per graduating class. For example, a freshman in high school might not be aware of the financial ramifications of college and the implications of debt. Thankfully, these high schoolers and many more are beginning to develop an awareness of finances when considering the cost of higher education.

Students who answered “no” cited reasons relating to a perceived simplified or abbreviated curriculum, undesirable weather patterns, a desire to attend more prestigious universities or general dissatisfaction with NEIU and its admission standards.  

Based on the general statements of the students who answered “no,” we can begin to see why high schoolers may harbor a negative opinion of our university. Let’s first address the idea that the curriculum is too easy. The students who answered “no” in this group were predominantly from schools in the Chicago Public School Selective Enrollment, which includes Northside College Prep, Whitney Young, Lane Tech and Lake View High School. These tier one schools focus on academic intensity and rigor. 

Embedded within their own high school culture, students within these schools are taught to be funneled into Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. And West Coast giants such as USC, UCLA and Stanford. In these schools, there is a feeling that Northeastern Illinois University is not challenging enough for them. That is a problem for Illinois, a state which, according to IllinoisPolicy.org, has the highest “brain drain” of college students than any other state in the country. 

Yet, a sizable chunk of the student population at any college tries to find the easiest way to deal with their curriculum.

The students who answered “maybe” cited statements that corresponded with, “I don’t know much about this school” and “Are there science programs here?” Upon observing the Science Fair process and the awards ceremony, it didn’t seem like NEIU made the effort to effectively market or explain our science programs to these students, if at all. No one talks about the Student Research Symposiums, there are no fliers being passed around to students about the STEM possibilities, or even indicating how Northeastern is a substantially cheaper option relative to neighboring universities. After a grueling seven hours of presentations, these high school students leave our campus not knowing anything definitive about our university, our mission and the benefits of attending NEIU. 

Perhaps, the space rental agreement between NEIU and CPS prohibits the former from soliciting high school students at these events. But without stronger advocacy, NEIU will not receive the return on investment it deserves. Northeastern Illinois University does have valuable programs such as the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative (ChicagoCHEC), a partnership with the National Cancer Institute led by nearby universities Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Either Northeastern Illinois improves on this initiative or we will continue to be an afterthought for high school graduates. And so, again, the question should be asked: NEIU, if the students are already coming through the doors, why are you not able to attract them? Students here are willing to give some pointers if need be. Utilize them.