Western remains positive despite decreased enrollment
March 3, 2017
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Western Illinois University’s enrollment may be down but Seth Miner, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, thoughts on its future remain up.
“The fact of the matter is high school graduates are becoming fewer and fewer. There’s a decline in the high school market,” Miner said.
Western’s admissions as well as institutes across the state and nation are impacted significantly by high school graduate trends.
“It’s nothing that’s specific to Western,” Miner said. “In the next five years they’re talking of just a very small (amount) going up on the increase of high school graduates.”
Miner explains that since 2011 the amount of high school graduates was optimal and from there declined at the current trending rate and when paired with Illinois’ nonexistent budget makes students’ confidence level to obtain a higher education low.
“With not having a budget allocated to the state for two years now that couples it as well. You know Dr. Thomas has talked about this crisis of confidence,” Miner said. “Where individuals with perspective students and families are questioning ‘what the public schools look like in the next four years?’ If you are sending your son or daughter to college you want to make sure that that college is going to be here for the next four years.”
Miner’s confidence in Western is not altered with the recent news of Western’s enrollment hitting below 10,000 students.
“I think Dr. Thomas has said this many times,” Miner said. “‘We’ve been here for a 117 years; we’re going to be here for a 117-plus years.’”
Being a regional public institution in West-Central Illinois, Miner believes that Western has a purpose to educate this region.
“For every dollar we get from the state, we almost triple what we put back into West-Central Illinois. So we definitely serve that purpose,” Miner said.
Along with studying high school graduate trends, Western has formed partnerships with various companies and high schools.
“We’ve got regional admissions counselors up in the Chicagoland area, and that’s where a big chunk of our students come from,” Miner said. “We also have different initiatives right here in West-Central Illinois. We’ve got high school summits where we go and we meet with the principal, superintendent, guidance counselors (and) their career counselors in an attempt to enhance that relationship with the students and the high schools and even businesses.”
During these summit meetings, Western and other partners focus on what is going well and other areas of opportunities they can capitalize on. In addition to teaming up with high schools and businesses, Miner says when it comes to recruiting prospective students, being proactive and guiding students to the next step and using different means to communicate with them is becoming more of their strong suit.
“(We) uplift them on getting accepted, but you know what, you’ve got your acceptance packet (and) inside that acceptance packet we’ve got a SOAR (Summer Orientation and Registration) date, instructions on how to do this, how to take that next step and then following up on that personalized note,” Miner said.
Partnering up isn’t their only way to recruit students, and Miner believes that while it is a major option, it is not their best one.
“You are our best sell people: the students. I use that example of, ‘When I got to Western, I was here. When I left Western I was here,’” Miner said. “You are our best promoters, (the) best recruitment tool we could ever have.”
Western is currently looking at enhancing the use of its current students to reach out and share their stories with prospective students.
“You are living that right now. You are living the Western experience, and as I said, it’s not so much as the direction that the university goes; you are what we are promoting,”
Miner said. “The students’ experiences throughout all of their Western experience.” Miner knows that once a student sets foot on campus they’re more likely to attend the university.
“We cover the cost of the train ticket to get students on campus because once students are on campus they’re much more likely to fall in love with Western and then enroll in the fall,” Miner said. “It’s a campus community; recruitment and enrollment is a campus community effort.”