Enrollment at Lindenwood University Belleville continues to climb

A sign over the main entrance on the Belleville campus of Lindenwood University.
A sign over the main entrance on the Belleville campus of Lindenwood University. Tim Vizer/BND

Lindenwood Belleville is again enjoying brisk growth thanks, in part, to the opening of its new Collinsville center.

Enrollment at Lindenwood University Belleville jumped from a total of 1,820 students in spring of 2014 to 2,077 students in spring 2015.

The largest gains came from daytime students attending the university. The 17- to 23-year-old traditional student population had a net gain of 234 students — up from 955 last spring to 1,189 students.

Meanwhile, the school added 175 students at the undergraduate level, in large part due to its new Collinsville location.

“In five years, the Lindenwood Belleville campus has grown its semester student population from 697 students to 1,449 students, more than doubling,” said Jerry Bladdick, campus president. “This has to make us one of, if not the fastest growing university campus in the state of Illinois.”

He said it’s remarkable the school is growing in so many different areas at the same time.

“Our undergraduate day semester program grew at an impressive and unheard of 24 percent since last spring,” Bladdick said.

The growth has come in conjunction with a massive redevelopment of Lindenwood’s West Main Street campus, formerly Belleville Township High School, and much of the land around it.

Projects include the renovation of the campus football stadium, classroom buildings, gymnasium and auditorium and the construction of two new dorms, a welcome center, a radio and television broadcast center and the creation of dozens of new offices for faculty and staff.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said seeing Lindenwood continue to surpass expectations never gets old.

“The City of Belleville has been so blessed to have this university as part of our community,” Eckert said. “I’m never surprised by their success, because they do everything right. I’m just grateful, and I know the people of Belleville are grateful, to see Lindenwood continue to invest in our community and continue to contribute to it.”

Lindenwood University arrived in Belleville in February 2003 when its board of directors agreed to purchase the former high school for $1.

In May of that year, late Lindenwood President Dennis Spellmann signed a development agreement with Belleville leaders and said the property would be “a real gem if it’s fixed up right.”

Classes started in the fall of 2003 and, by the end of the year, about 600 students took classes there. Originally, only night classes were offered. But by 2009, undergraduate and graduate level daytime courses were offered for the first time.

Lindenwood has spent about $25 million to renovate and expand the former high school campus. Projects include $8 million for the two new dorms; $2 million to buy the former Travel Lodge motel on West Main Street and another $1 million to buy 20 houses which are used as student housing; $2 million for renovations to the campus football stadium; $1.2 million to create a communications center; $1 million for work on the student center; and several hundred thousand dollars spent on landscaping and other cosmetic work.

Locally, private universities have fared well over the past few years while public schools have stuggled to add students.

Fellow private school McKendree University in Lebanon welcomed the largest freshman class in its 186-year history in 2014 with 430 new freshmen and 140 transfer students to beat 2013’s record enrollment by 10 percent.

Among public schools, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2014 saw enrollment increase by 126 students to 2,127 — a 1 percent gain. Meanwhile, Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville lost students. It had 11,332 at this point in 2013 compared to 10,545 in 2014.