My solution to U. of I.’s in-state enrollment problem

unionFrom the Saturday, Sept. 21, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)


By Dave Wischnowsky

The University of Illinois has an enrollment problem.

And I have a problem with the university’s enrollment.

But I also have an enrollment solution.

Or, at the very least, I have something that the administration at my alma mater should seriously be considering in regards to the declining number of in-state freshmen entering in our state’s flagship university.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that the percentage of in-state students making up this year’s freshman class at U. of I. has dropped to a new low, with only about 73 percent coming from Illinois, and only 76 percent of all undergrads hailing from the Land of Lincoln. Less than a decade ago, 90 percent of freshmen were from Illinois.

For years, the university has justified the shifts by arguing that the funding provided by higher-tuition out-of-state and international students is crucial and that their presence also adds valuable diversity to the campus.

However, last week, even admissions director Stacey Kostell told the Tribune that 73 percent of freshmen is less than the school wanted and is due to more international students accepting offers of admission than expected along with the smallest-ever percentage of Illinois applicants accepting offers. Kostell said that’s “something we are concerned about.”

I am too. Because, while 90 percent is high, I believe that the state-funded university should have at least 80 percent of its undergrads from Illinois.

Now, mind you, I’m not at all against U. of I. enrolling considerably more international and out-of-state students than when I was there from 1994-98. With our state’s budget woes, the school by all means should recruit such students, take advantage of their higher tuition payments and then have them spread the word about Illinois far and wide.

But since this trend began, I’ve argued that out-of-state and international students should not be enrolled in place of qualified in-state students. Rather, they should be in addition to them.

U. of I. board Chairman Christopher Kennedy told the Tribune that the university’s goal is to continue educating the same number of Illinois residents regardless of how large the out-of-state population grows. I would actually contend that it should educate even more Illinois students – as long as they meet the school’s high qualifications.

This week, using data from 2012, I researched the states with Big Ten universities (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska) and compared their populations to the number of students enrolled at their public Big Ten schools (as a private school, I excluded Northwestern from my study).

With 12,875,255 residents, Illinois is the most populous state in the Big Ten. But with 32,256 undergrads, U. of I. ranks only No. 6 among the Big Ten’s 11 public schools – trailing Ohio State (42,916), Penn State (38,954), Michigan State (36,557), Minnesota (34,812) and Indiana (32,543) and placing just ahead of Purdue (31,988).

Beyond that, U. of I.’s total undergrad enrollment is equivalent to only .0025 percent of the state’s population. That’s dead last in the Big Ten well behind the percentage of the next three most populous states: Pennsylvania (.0031), Ohio (.0037) and Michigan (.0065), which has two public Big Ten schools.

Tied for No. 41 nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 college rankings, Illinois is more exclusive than most Big Ten universities. But Penn State, which admits 6,700 more undergrads than U. of I., is ranked No. 37, indicating that U. of I. has room for total enrollment growth without sacrificing any of its academic excellence.

For cash and diversity, it’s wise to bring in more out-of-state students. But for Illinois, it’s also smart to educate more of our best and brightest. Don’t count them out.


1. Ohio State: 42,916
2. Penn State: 38,954
3. Michigan State: 36,557
4. Minnesota: 34,812
5. Indiana: 32,543
6. Illinois: 32,256
7. Purdue: 31,988
8. Wisconsin: 29,880
9. Michigan: 27,417
10. Iowa: 21,564
11. Nebraska: 19,345
12. Northwestern: 9,466*

*Private University


1. Illinois: 12,875,255 (.0025)
2. Pennsylvania: 12,763,536 (.0031)
3. Ohio: 11,544,225 (.0037)
4. Michigan: 9,883,360 (.0065)
5. Indiana: 6,537,334 (.0099)
6. Wisconsin: 5,726,398 (.0052)
7. Minnesota: 5,379,139 (.0064)
8. Iowa: 3,074,186 (.0097)
9. Nebraska: 1,855,525 (.0133)