The 5 factors driving Indiana’s record enrollment surge

The university has launched several simple but effective initiatives over the past year to help meet student needs.

Indiana University credits its projected record-breaking freshman enrollment numbers on several factors, including the nearly 20% rise in Pell Grant recipients, who could get a further boost if the federal program is expanded.

IU’s deftness on strategic initiatives this year has increased interest and access during a still jittery time for students and institution leaders. The payoff has been surprisingly swift—46,000 applications for the fall semester and a big surge in deposits after acceptances were granted.

“When we compare the enrollment deposits and housing deposits with past enrollment trends, we can project a class of about 9,300 incoming freshmen this fall—a 17% increase over the previous year’s freshman enrollment and a 12% increase over the record class of 8,291 set in 2019,” said David Johnson, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management. “This demonstrates our students’ enthusiasm for a more typical, post-pandemic college experience, coupled with the value and academic strengths of an IU degree.”

More than 10,000 students have submitted enrollment deposits. More than 9,000 have sent in housing deposits, proving Johnson’s point that the COVID-19 pandemic may not be over but that students are ready to see their campuses return to a traditionally more active atmosphere.

IU is not alone. Several public state universities have experienced the same unlikely surges. Michigan State University is reporting that the incoming freshmen class could be its largest in more than five years. The University of Minnesota system has seen commitments rise 12% above numbers at this time last year. And Purdue University, which has broken its record for freshmen enrollment in four of the past five years, will done so again, despite the pandemic’s fallout.

Though enrollments fell about 2.5% in 2020-21, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, most large public and private institutions managed to survive with only modest declines. Could 2021-22 be more promising for colleges and universities that can be seen as affordable, accessible, academically rich and flexible? The answer seems to be in those application and deposit numbers.

Aside from Pell Grants, IU credits a few other factors for the uptick in student interest and the decisions to attend:

  • Going test-optional. Seeking a more holistic approach to admissions, Indiana implemented the policy and students responded. More than 40% did not submit scores.
  • Scholarships anyone? The university’s main campus in Bloomington increased its pool of scholarship offers by 50%, and the results have been record-shattering. The percentage of students who have accepted the offers has risen 56%.
  • Innovation. IU is close to unveiling its new Luddy Center for Artificial Intelligence, a part of its informatics, computing and engineering school, as well as a Health Sciences building. Both are in fields that have huge student interest and will provide critical pathways and opportunities for learning, networking and collaboration with industry leaders.
  • Targeting a more diverse pool of students: IU is projecting it will top last year’s fall cohort of underrepresented students by 5%, or about 1,600 students overall.  Again, Pell Grants and scholarships have been key. Twice as many students have accepted them for 2021.
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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