EUREKA — While Eureka College President David Arnold expects enrollment to be around 790 students this fall, he sees the small liberal arts school reaching 1,000 students within five years.
“Twelve hundred is the pause point” at which the college’s goals will be re-evaluated, he said, adding these numbers include part-time students. “We think that’s the sweet spot for us.”
Eureka’s enrollment has grown 60 percent since 2003, when it had fewer than 500 students.
Arnold credits the growth to a reduction in tuition, a concerted effort to attract and retain students with a focus on the freshman experience and attention to academic and financial soundness.
Tuition was reduced from $18,900 in 2003 to $13,000 in 2004. It has increased to nearly $18,000 since then.
“Eureka has always been too small,” said Arnold. “We know we need to get larger” to strengthen the academic program, hire more faculty and stay financially sound, he said.
But the school is committed to maintaining small class sizes and emphasizing individual attention.
Arnold said Eureka is bucking a national trend by hiring permanent, tenure-track faculty rather than part-time or temporary full-time instructors.
Because of that, Provost Philip Cavalier said, “We’ve had a lot of success hiring faculty in the last five years who are the best in the pool … our top choices.”
Money struggles aren’t new for Eureka — it lost accreditation during the Great Depression because of financial problems — but Arnold said it is on sound financial footing now and “the college has always had good success academically.”
Eureka alumni include 42 college presidents, seven governors and members of Congress and, Arnold said with a smile, “that guy who was president of the United States.”
“That guy,” of course, is Ronald Reagan.
“The Reagan legacy … brings us attention we wouldn’t otherwise get,” Arnold said.
But in Arnold’s eyes, the story is about more than Reagan being a famous graduate; it’s about how his liberal arts experience at Eureka contributed to what he became.
“It’s important to note that Reagan came from a poor family and was the first in his family to graduate from college,” said Arnold, who sees a lot of similarity in the students who attend Eureka today.
About 90 percent are from Illinois, mostly from small town and rural areas — “kids like Ronald Wilson Reagan” — and about 60 percent are the first in their family to attend college, he said.
That’s one reason the college has a First Generation Student Program that focuses on providing additional support and cultural experiences for those students.
The college also wants to interact more with the surrounding community and bring more people to campus to make use of its facilities.
“For some people, we’re in the middle of nowhere,” Cavalier said. But being where it is has its advantages, he said, such as drawing people from Peoria and Bloomington, “both of which have a strong interest in the arts.”
Among other ideas under consideration are a Summer Arts Festival and having the Peoria Ballet offer one or two weeklong programs.