BLOOMINGTON — New student enrollment jumped 30 percent at Illinois Wesleyan University this fall while overall enrollment saw an increase of about 2.7 percent.
IWU's incoming class of 540 students includes 479 domestic first-year students, 41 transfer students and 20 international students. It is also the university's most diverse class.
The number of students from McLean County in the incoming class increased from 27 to 37 this fall — the first academic year in which the new McLean County Scholarship is being offered.
President Eric Jensen on Friday attributed the increases to a concerted effort to get the word out about what's special about IWU, including research and other hands-on opportunities for undergraduates, above-average placement rates after graduation and figures showing IWU students earn an average salary of $55,600 10 years after graduation compared to a national median of $34,300.
“I think the pendulum is swinging the other way in what we do in a place like this,” said Jensen. “It's not about a first job, it's how you prepare for what you face on the road.”
Noting that “it's a hard world out there in higher education,” with many schools suffering from enrollment declines, Jensen said the increase at IWU “is very encouraging.”
“We want to be a little bigger than we are,” he said.
Meanwhile, Millikin University in Decatur is welcoming its largest number of undergraduate students since fall 2015, with 2,001 undergraduates counted this fall, a 3.6 percent increase in traditional undergraduate students.
There are 473 first-year students this fall, only two fewer than last fall.
Millikin President Patrick White said, “We are very pleased with this year's incoming class, strong in number and academically, with all kinds of outstanding talent.”
Lincoln College saw a 5 percent drop in total enrollment, dropping from 710 last year to 674 this year. However, President David Gerlach was pleased to see a surge in commuter students, from 81 last year to 120.
“The fact that so many local students and their parents are choosing Lincoln College is a tremendous vote of confidence in our ability to provide a quality, affordable college education close to home,” said Gerlach.
The number of incoming full-time freshmen at Lincoln College this fall dropped nearly 8.7 percent to 274 from 300 last year.
Eureka College did not respond to requests for fall enrollment figures.
In addition to new-student enrollment being up at IWU, the institution also reported having its most diverse class ever, with 29 percent of incoming domestic students identifying as multiracial, black, Latino or Asian, compared to 22 percent last year.
“The world out there is diverse, multicultural, multiracial and multi-language,” said Jensen. “This is the world they're going to be leading in. … If we're serious about training them to be leaders, we need diversity.”
In addition, as a Methodist institution, Jensen said IWU has a mission to provide accessibility to education, which means providing financial aid and making sure people know what's available.
“Private universities are very generous with scholarships,” he said.
LeAnn Hughes, IWU's vice president of enrollment and marketing, said, “This year, an increased percentage of admitted students chose to enroll, which I believe speaks to the value of our holistic, liberal arts education and the ability of a world-class faculty to transform Illinois Wesleyan students into future professional and social leaders.”