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.