Shelby Thede, an 18-year-old college freshman from Davenport, planned last May to attend Western Illinois University in Moline.
Then, she considered Illinois’ budget impasse, which has left many students uncertain about the state’s financial support for higher education.
As a result, Thede choose to attend Black Hawk College, Moline. The community college has seen an enrollment increase in 2016.
With some exceptions — primarily at the University of Illinois at Urbana and its campuses in Chicago and Springfield — enrollment is decreasing at the state’s four-year public institutions.
Western Illinois University in Macomb and Moline, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale all have lost students in the last year. Declining percentages ranged from 5.5 percent (Northern) to 13 percent (Eastern).
On the other hand, Iowa’s three regents universities — Iowa State University in Ames, University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and the University of Iowa in Iowa City — have grown in the number of students who attend the schools. Many of those students come from Illinois.
Students from Illinois increased in Ames and Cedar Falls, while the percentage remains steady at about 30 percent in Iowa City.
While there is no sense of students streaming out of Illinois, some clearly are choosing to attend college in other states, said Charles McBarron, communications director at the Illinois Education Association, Springfield. "That certainly is disturbing," he said.
"Our higher-education institutions in Illinois are crucially important, yet for years now, there is a slow de-funding of higher education that is causing lasting damage to the state," McBarron said.
McBarron, a graduate of Southern Illinois, noted his alma mater’s enrollment is down 7.5 percent in 2016. The trend has been developing over 20 years.
In the Quad-Cities, enrollment numbers vary, but the trends are up at the private Augustana College in Rock Island and at the community-college level.
St. Ambrose University in Davenport, also a private institution, does not yet have 2016 numbers, but enrollment decreased there from 2014 to 2015. In addition, the percentage of Illinois students at SAU dropped from 47.92 percent in 2011 to 46.39 percent in 2015.
The Augustana College campus is built for about 2,500 students, Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, said. In the early part of the century, the enrollment was about 2,150 students, and the university built a residence hall and added staffing to accommodate the growth.
Barnds said the university worked to increase diversity on the campus, and now 25 percent of the student population is from an ethnic or racial minority group.
“We are much more culturally diverse than before,” he said.
Community colleges are up slightly or at steady levels for enrollment.
Black Hawk College president Bettie Truitt said community colleges across the country saw increases about five years ago, as a reflection of the country’s recession.
"When unemployment numbers go high, our numbers increase," she said.
This year, Black Hawk is up 1.74 percent in enrollment, from 4,997 in 2015 to 5,084 in 2016. In 2011, during the recession, it was 5,834.
It was a similar experience for the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, with institutions in Bettendorf, Clinton, Davenport and Muscatine.
The past two years have been essentially flat in enrollment at about 8,000, but the district had 9,800 students in 2011, Erin Snyder, director of enrollment management, said.
"That was the peak," she said. "We did see a lot of those students finish out with a certificate or diploma, and a lot of them have gotten great jobs and improved the local economy."
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September 28, 2016 at 10:36PM