Education

September 2, 2014

Metro-east universities see boost in enrollment

Enrollment is up at the area's four-year universities for the fall semester, but down at the largest community college.

Lindenwood University-Belleville has seen a 24 percent increase in its full-time student enrollment to 1,320 for the 2014-15 school year from 1,025 last year.

McKendree University in Lebanon welcomed the largest freshman class in its 186-year history with 430 new freshmen and 140 transfer students to beat last year's record enrollment by 10 percent.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville credits the largest freshman class in its history, 2,127 students, with increasing the school's total population by 126 students, about 1 percent more than last year.

The school estimates that it has 11,450 undergraduate students in attendance for the 2014-15 school year and 13,978 students overall.

Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, meanwhile, lost students. It had 11,332 at this point in 2013 compared with 10,545 this year.

Lindenwood-Belleville campus president Jerry Bladdick credited his school's ever-increasing menu of degree offerings with increasing the school's enrollment.

"It wasn't long ago that we offered five degree programs," Bladdick said. "But now we have more than 30. As we have widened our offerings, we have become more attractive to a larger number of students."

Also factors, according to Bladdick, were the addition of more sports programs for student athletes and the addition of nicer places to live on campus, including a new women's dorm that opened in the middle of last school year and a new men's dorm that is expected to open this year.

McKendree leaders credited the institution's growing reputation -- both on a local and a broad scale -- with increasing its student population. They specifically cited the school's new programs, its nationally renowned debate team and its admission to NCAA Division II athletics as reasons it has added students.

McKendree President James Dennis said it is the school's responsibility to give students the programs and services they need to succeed. The students have to take it from there.

"Everything you do here is up to you," Dennis told students during an address to incoming freshmen. "You, your actions and attitude are responsible for your success."

SWIC leaders said enrollment is down on their campus because the national economy is improving.

The school saw record enrollment in the height of the recession starting in 2008 as people went back to school to try to find a new career. But as people went back to work, the demand from adult non-traditional students has sagged.

SWIC leaders believe the trend will soon head back upward because local high schools are seeing an increase in their student populations.

The two-year college traditionally has seen one of four local high school graduates continue their education on the Belleville campus and three of five area high school graduates seek some form of continuing education at the school by the time they are 30.

In addition to increasing the size of their classes, local school leaders said the quality of students the institutions are attracting is increasing as well.

SIUE freshman had an average ACT score of 23.5 score which is half a point higher than last year's average and more than a point higher than the 22.4 average score of the freshman class in 2011.

McKendree reported that half of its incoming freshmen finished in the top quarter of their high school class in grade point average. 83 percent of them received an academic scholarship to attend the school. The average incoming freshman at McKendree had an ACT score of 24.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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