ISU working to continue increasing enrollment

Indiana State University freshman enrollment declined this fall, but admissions officials are striving to push numbers back up and say they’re already seeing some positive results.

“Our intention is to grow the enrollments back,” said John Beacon, ISU senior vice president for enrollment management, marketing and communication.

The university has already processed 6,161 applications from prospective fall 2017 freshmen, up 10 percent over the same day last year, and it has 2,200 admits, up 31 percent over the same day last year. “Those are good indicators we’re seeing some positive momentum,” said Richard Toomey, ISU associate vice president for enrollment management.

Beacon, Toomey and others who work to bring new students to campus spoke to ISU trustees Thursday during a seminar on freshmen recruitment.

About 90 percent of ISU students receive some form of financial aid. “Our students really rely on financial aid. Affordability is very important to them,” said Crystal Baker, director of student financial aid. Fifty percent of ISU students are Pell-eligible.

While ISU’s overall enrollment of 13,565 students this fall was the second-largest in school history, it’s freshman enrollment dropped 12 percent, with 2,448 freshmen this year, compared to 2,784 last year.

Beacon attributed the drop to a competitive market and affordability issues. “That has become a very critical issue for a lot of families across the country, not only our students,” he said.

Also, ISU packaged its financial aid differently and did not include PLUS loans, which are federal loans parents can use to help pay for college. Many students looked to them to meet the gap that other financial aid didn’t cover, but the problem was that a lot of families didn’t qualify. Without the loan, some students dropped out after the first semester of their freshman year because they couldn’t afford to attend.

“I think what we lost were students who figured out they couldn’t afford to attend ISU without a PLUS loan to help with finances,” Beacon said. But officials believe that freshman fall-to-winter retention will improve this year because those students will be in a better financial position to continue.

He noted that the top three reasons a student chooses a college are cost, academic programs and location, in that order. ISU draws most of its students from Marion and surrounding counties; the corridor between Indianapolis and Terre Haute; Lake County; and Evansville.

Presenters talked about a major change in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid they believe will help them in the recruiting process. For the 2017-18 application cycle, students will be able to submit a FAFSA earlier — starting Saturday. In prior years, FAFSA wasn’t available until Jan. 1.

Also, students/families will use earlier income information. Students applying for fall 2017 can use 2015 tax returns.

By enabling students to fill FAFSA out several months sooner, “this gives us an opportunity to communicate with students at an earlier stage, to walk them through the finances, and to walk them through other steps they need to keep in mind to be eligible for enrollment,” Toomey said.

ISU also is having success recruiting Illinois students, including academically accomplished students. The 2016 freshman honors class was the university’s second largest, and 25 percent of those students come from Illinois, said Sarah Wurtz, ISU scholarships director.

A new scholarship program seeks to attract even more Illinois students. The Illinois Achievement Scholarship is aimed at first-year students from Illinois with a 3.0 grade-point average or higher and financial need; it will provide $2,000 per year. In combination with the Illinois Student Scholarship, “It brings their tuition down to a level that is below the cost of any Illinois state institution,” Wurtz said.

The university also recognizes the importance of smart phones and social media to reach today’s high school students, said Santhana Naidu, communications and marketing.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

ISU working to continue increasing enrollment

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