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NIU enrollment up for Fall 2020 for the first time in a decade after setting record-low in 2019

Brittni Adams (left) and Nakiah Wilkes, both freshman from Chicago, wear masks as they walk past the NIU sign at Northern Illinois University Tuesday afternoon. Masks can be seen on students all over campus as they adjust to attending classes amid the pamdemic.
Brittni Adams (left) and Nakiah Wilkes, both freshman from Chicago, wear masks as they walk past the NIU sign at Northern Illinois University Tuesday afternoon. Masks can be seen on students all over campus as they adjust to attending classes amid the pamdemic.

DeKALB - After reporting its lowest enrollment numbers in 50 years last year, Northern Illinois University on Tuesday reported it's first enrollment increase in more than a decade despite the restrictions in place because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Enrollment for the fall semester rose to 16,769 according to the school's official census on the 10th day of attendance Tuesday, up 160 from last year. It was the first increase since 2008.

“NIU increased total enrollment during this challenging and dynamic time by attracting a freshman class that is strong in number, talent and diversity, and by welcoming back continuing undergraduate, graduate and law students who appreciate the quality and affordability of our educational experience,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman in a statement. “It is deeply gratifying that students were able to look beyond the uncertainty of these last several months and recognize that NIU offers a tremendous combination of access and excellence.”

The university in a news release credited improved undergraduate retention as another key facet of the upswing in numbers. Overall retention of first-year students was 78%, up 6% from last year. Retention rates for Black, Latino and Asian students were all up at least 10 percentage points from a year ago, the release states.

New transfer students fell 7%, to 1,504 this year.

NIU continued to have success recruiting students of color, particularly Black students, according to the release from the school. NIU recorded its fifth straight year of increased Black student enrollment in the freshman class. This year, 35% of entering freshmen are Black (up 2 percentage points), the highest that figure has been in university history. Latinx enrollment also grew, accounting for 23% of the incoming class (up 3 percentage points).

The average GPA of incoming freshmen was 3.32, the highest in 11 years. The school attributed that to the Huskie Pledge, which guarantees that all tuition and fees will be covered by grants and scholarships for any Illinois students with high school GPAs of 3.0 or better and whose families have incomes of $75,000 or less.

The NIU College of Law grew for the third straight year, up by 33 students (12%). Among all other graduate and professional programs, enrollment held steady at 4,185. In all, Freeman said, this year’s enrollment numbers are cause for" great optimism and pride."

“This is one of the most diverse and talented incoming classes that we have ever recruited," she said. "And we hope that this sets the trend for the years ahead."

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