Indiana State University sees freshman enrollment growth, but overall 4% decline

Aug. 30—Similar to last year, freshman enrollment is up at Indiana State University this fall, while overall enrollment has declined to 8,305 total students, about a 4.1% decrease.

Last fall, ISU's headcount enrollment was 8,658.

Total enrollment is impacted by smaller classes progressing through their four years at ISU, a trend expected to continue for a few years, said Deborah Curtis, ISU president.

But she also pointed to the number of first-time, full-time freshmen increasing both last year and this year.

ISU has 1,568 first-time, full-time freshman this fall, up 2% from last year. That represents a 10% increase the last two years.

The increase in freshmen "is a tremendous amount of hard work," Curtis said Wednesday while meeting with reporters. "The environment is certainly challenging out there ... We're pleased to see that growth."

Some of those challenges, occurring both in Indiana and nationally, include declines in enrollment due to dramatically lower college-going rates as well as ongoing impact of small COVID classes that still have two more years before graduation, according to Provost Chris Olsen.

Curtis attributed part of the increase in freshmen to the Indiana State Advantage program. "More and more students and families are shopping very carefully for where they will get the best quality experience for the dollars they are spending," she said.

The Indiana State Advantage includes free tuition after grants and scholarships for Pell-eligible students in Indiana and Illinois (who have at least a 2.75 GPA in high school) and up to a $3,000 experience grant.

Curtis also shared that a growing proportion of freshmen are Honors College students, with 349 Honors College students in the new freshman class. That's a record in terms of the percentage of the freshman class, Olsen said.

"These are students who could choose to go anywhere, and they're choosing to have the experience at Indiana State University," she said.

Addressing any potential budget impact based on enrollment, Curtis noted the university conservatively developed its budget based on an enrollment of 8,222. So the actual number of students, 8,305, is better than that projection, she said.

In response to enrollment losses, the university made about $12 million in budget cuts this past year, which included reorganization. "We reset our base and we are stable moving forward. We aren't climbing out of a hole in budget now," the ISU president said.

ISU's enrollment has a major impact on the community, she said. It's one of the largest employers in the Wabash Valley.

Growing enrollment "brings more people to Terre Haute, walking around, spending in the community, living in the community, and engaging in community activities," she said.

Students' community service also benefits Terre Haute in many ways, she said.

Among initiatives that could help recruit students:

—An early childhood initiative in partnership with local government and other entities that would expand its early childhood education center and programs.

—A $66 million addition/renovation project involving the Bailey College of Engineering and Technology.

—Outreach to 700,000 Hoosiers who have some college, but no degree, as well as outreach to graduates who need additional education but can't leave jobs to come to campus.

While increasing freshmen classes and improved retention provide grounds for optimism, ISU enrollment has fallen significantly in recent years.

Fall 2017 enrollment was 13,045, which means this year's headcount is down 36% since that time.

In other fall 2023 enrollment highlights:

—The university is seeing an increase in international students, which ISU believes is a factor of those students being able to acquire visas more readily in other countries, Curtis said.

The number of new international students and the total international student population are the highest since 2017, ISU states.

—The freshman class has a 35% minority population, with Blacks making up 21% and a growing Hispanic student population of 7%.

—Freshman to sophomore retention is 69%; last year it was 64%.

—The number of students living on campus has grown, Curtis said. Housing contracts within ISU's residential life are up by 78, the second consecutive year the number of people living on campus has increased.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue