One year ago, the NIU College of Education found reason for celebration in rising enrollment numbers compared to the fall of 2018.
NIU’s official 10-day count, released this afternoon by the university, shows a 6.59% growth in the College of Education, with 133 additional undergraduates and 24 additional graduate students compared to Fall 2019.
The college also welcomed 174 new transfer students, up 13 compared to the 161 students from fall 2019.
Retention, meanwhile, is at the highest points in the college’s recent history, reaching 78.4% for new freshmen and 87.0% for new transfer students at the undergraduate level, and 89.1% at the graduate level.
“I am thrilled that our enrollment is up for undergraduate and graduate students this fall,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education. “This is the result of the hard work of many people and the quality and relevance of our academic programs in the College of Education.”
David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, is equally proud of the college’s climb in spite of “a really tight environment.”
“The conventional wisdom in the spring was, probably across the board in higher education, and particularly at NIU, our home base, that numbers would be flat or go down,” Walker says. “That has not been true.”
At the same time, he also has found nice surprises in the opening days of the semester by the numbers of new Huskies seeking the College of Education’s academic experience.
“We typically don’t see a lot of movement from the first day of classes to the 10-day in aggregate, but I’m going to happily contradict myself,” he says.
“This year, we grew in one week’s time – in the first week of classes – by about plus-60 undergraduate and graduate students. That tells me a lot. That’s very positive, and something I haven’t seen as an associate dean in the last five years.”
Lifting the college’s numbers, Walker says, is teamwork throughout Graham, Gabel and Anderson halls.
It starts with collaboration between Brittany Wereminski, coordinator of Recruitment, and college leaders who have been “very systematic and intentional in approaching new admissions, readmissions and what we’re calling out ‘stop-out’ admissions with both undergraduate and graduate students.”
Marketing efforts include virtual open houses, “phonecasts” and swag giveaways in addition to the traditional postcards, emails, text messages and voicemails.
Faculty have contributed through curricular updates, Walker says, that include new majors, minors, certificates of study, emphases and specializations “that we feel follow the workplace, are exciting, are useful and are a reason why students want to come to NIU and want to come back semester after semester.”
“The curriculum is the purview of the faculty,” he says, “so a lot of that is through faculty innovation, their chairs helping out and, of course, our College Curriculum Committee seeing this through.”
Forging new 2+2 agreements is also bringing new students.
The latest launched this fall in Elementary Education with the College of DuPage, and Walker is in talks with COD to renew the BSAM-ITTE partnership and to develop agreements for several programs within the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
He also is discussing a 2+2 for Elementary Education with Waubonsee Community College along with programming from the Department of Special and Early Education with Elgin Community College.
Meanwhile, Walker attributes some of the positive trends in retention to academic advisors in every department and Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of Teacher Preparation and Development and acting director of Student Services.
Regular meetings to discuss what’s working well, and where new ideas are needed, is producing and improving “personalized advising,” he says. “We’ve always been very good at advising. With the use of the Navigate advising system, meeting students where they are in terms of technology and the ease of scheduling and meetings, there is more of an added-on and high-touch quality now. All of this has really translated well to our students.”
As NIU and the world continue to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, Walker is optimistic for the future both near and far.
For this fall, and its mostly remote delivery, “we’ve been getting the message out, and working literally student by student and with their parents, that we know how to do this. We’re really good at this. We have award-winning departments and programs with national recognition.”
Beyond the pandemic, he expects the demand for the College of Education will grow in response to a continued mission of “everybody working as one.”
“We intentionally planned, and we had a lot of initiatives, and they all seemed to come together and work. We were systematic and disciplined in our approach, and we’re seeing our hard work pay off,” Walker says. “These numbers are our record – and our record is telling us a very good story currently.”