Problem and Solution

North Eastern Illinois University, a public university located (according to Google Maps) about 7 miles from where I’m sitting, has run into a problem—declining enrollment:

In a trend that has everyone involved apprehensive, faculty and students alike, enrollment is down at Northeastern Illinois University. Despite tax-breaks and national support to encourage an amplified level of college graduates in the U.S., NEIU has succumbed to the ramifications of a slow economy, when compared to recent years.

At the beginning of the 2011 fall semester, NEIU had 11,580 students enrolled, down 1.4 percent from the previous year.

1.4% doesn’t sound like much of a decrease but it severely understates the scope of the problem:

The most disturbing decrease is in the number of new freshman, which dropped by a significant 8.8 percent from fall 2010 to fall 2011.

In more recent entering years enrollment has stabilized a bit but it’s continuing to decline. School administrators have hit on a solution:

Northeastern Illinois University is taking a big gamble: that if it finally builds on-campus housing, it can reverse declining student enrollment. But the way the university’s going about this has upset some neighbors. The university plans to acquire the properties through eminent domain, leaving owners on one block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. with little say in the matter.

Depending on who’s speaking, the 3400 block of W Bryn Mawr Ave. could be described as “sleepy,” “stagnant,” or “depressed.” But nearly every storefront is occupied. On the south side sit a Chinese restaurant, dental clinic, hair salon, and hookah cafe. On the north side, a travel agency, real estate agency, bank, and 7-11.

I think this is almost certainly a completely wrong solution to NEIU’s problems. Let me present an alternative. I would estimate that building the new roughly 1,000 unit student housing, based on typical Chicago building costs for construction of this sort, will cost no less than $5 million and probably more in the vicinity of $10 to $20 million. The should scrap this plan along with the planned $73 million education building (yes, they’re expanding facilities as enrollment contracts). That would provide savings of something in the vicinity of $80 million, possibly more. That’s enough to give each and every full-time student a 20% reduction in tuition over the period of the next 10 years. That should attract some students.

Of course, the reality that confronts NEIU as well as any number of other schools that aren’t in the elite 10% of universities is that the United States has enormous overcapacity in colleges, exactly what you’d expect when you subsidize something as highly as we’ve subsidized higher education over the years. Rather than opening new facilities we should be thinking of consolidating and closing facilities and bringing some institutions’ activities online.

Educational expansion for the 21st century shouldn’t consist of bricks and mortar school buildings. It should be in the Cloud.

27 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Just got through talking with a dad, whose daughter is started at UMO (Columbia) in the fall, repeating a complaint I’ve heard numerous times. Illinois public colleges are far more expensive than their neighboring counterparts — Missouri’s flagship university will cost less to attend than an Illinois regional university.

    (Just noticed from the link though, the attempt to appeal to international students. Foreign students will pay more than Americans)

  • If you were a foreign student and had your choice of going to a college in either of the California systems, a Florida school, or NEIU, which would you pick? IMO the whole project is based on a fantasy.

  • ... Link

    IIRC Florida Atlantic University is a one mile stroll from the beach in Boca Raton. I remember almost tripping over coeds in bikinis in February in Gainesville, and I’m sure the weather’s even better in Boca!

    I’m thinking bikinis outdoors in February are rarer at NEIU.

  • michael reynolds Link

    What an odd decision for a university to make. In 2000 maybe, but in 2014? I guess they offer neither business nor creative writing degrees.

  • TastyBits Link

    This sounds like a developers scheme to use the University as cover to obtain and develop the area.

    The university is planning two large multi- use buildings — one on each side of Bryn Mawr. The ground floor would feature new retail and restaurants. Above those, enough dorm rooms would be built to fit 500 beds. Hahs hopes the project will set off a domino effect of revitalization, extending east down Bryn Mawr.

    Or, this could be another weird idea, and these guys are going to inadvertently make a ton of money on a dumb ass idea.

  • steve Link

    One of the problems they face is that consumers, parents and students, now expect fancy dorms and multipurpose buildings, i.e. gym/entertainment facilities. So far, they seem willing to pay for those extras.


  • Yeah, that’s my take, too, TastyBits. My first reaction is always that somebody’s brother-in-law is a developer.


    NEIU is and has always been a commuter school. Two-thirds of its students are receiving aid from the federal and/or state government. 30% of its students are Hispanics and it has a special mission as a school that serves Hispanics. In addition half of its students are part-time. I don’t think it fits the profile you’re suggesting.

  • Don Rubovits Link

    Dave, have you been over to Northwestern University (in Evanston, IL) recently? Incredible amount of construction. My perception: the intense competition among more selective schools drives them to improve continually. At least, that’s their appeal to alumni for more money. And a good amount of that money goes to funding scholarships.

  • steve Link

    Dave- While that has not been their demographic, it sounds like they want to join that group. You certainly seem to see it at all of the second tier colleges that want to charge first tier tuition rates. WHile I think you are correct, in the larger sense, about what is going on, I wonder if they aren’t trying to tap into the market of more affluent Hispanics, hoping they will go there rather than moving up to a flagship school?


  • Don:

    New construction is the way that college presidents justify their out-sized salaries.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Dave, I don’t disagree with your concerns, but the University of Illinois has the second most international students in the country. I don’t think foreigners necessarily make the same value decisions as Americans. (Also, I think the Illinois public college system doesn’t feel it has any particular responsibility to Illinois residents) Foreign students are supposed to make up lagging attendance and pay full price and there are a lot of them. I suspect that if you look in a few years, NEIU will be a commuter school with foreign students that want to study in Chicago for whatever reason.

  • It also has a world-famous computer sciences department.

    A ranking of U. S. colleges based solely on the quality and number of their dorm rooms would be interesting.

    As to what NEIU will be in a few years, it depends on the state’s choices. Here’s my prediction. In five years the dorms still won’t be built, they’ll have run into budget problems, and NEIU’s enrollment will be 10% lower than it is today. Also, the state’s revenues will continue to dwindle and they’ll wonder why.

    BTW, have you ever sat on a university building committee? I have. Several of them.

  • ... Link

    This sounds like a developers scheme to use the University as cover to obtain and develop the area.

    Ya think? lol Universities are probably the second biggest scam going on in the country now, right behind Congress & the President.

  • ... Link

    Good God, excuse me. Third biggest after Wall Street, and then Congress & the President.

  • One of the many scams…

  • ... Link

    LOL, good one, Cardinal Fang!

  • g Link

    Dave, I’m a resident in the area and many of us are struggling with the use of eminent domain in this situation. I am grateful you bring up the points you do. I’d love to talk to you more about this offline. Please contact me when you have a chance. Thanks!

Leave a Comment