Degree seeking enrollment has dropped to 1,229 students for the 2019-2020 school year. Knox’s current total student headcount is 1,258.
The 75 total student drop compared to the 2018-2019 school year is about in line with what other Illinois colleges are experiencing, Vice President of Admissions Paul Steenis said.
“These are really interesting and challenging times for higher education and maintaining enrollments,” Steenis said. “When we look at our enrollment numbers, relative to many institutions out there, we feel like we’re very much in the ball game. We feel like we’re actually, as a college, doing reasonably well at maintaining our enrollment at the levels that they are.”
Illinois is a net exporter of college students, with more students leaving the state for school than coming in from other states. Additionally, the number of high school graduates each year is declining as a whole.
Knox brought in 343 freshmen and 25 transfer students this year.
The freshmen class is smaller than anticipated and represents a drop of almost 40 students from the 380 that was expected to enter as of the spring. However, the number of transfer students is about on par with recent years, when the average has been around 30, Steenis said.
Besides the smaller freshman class, this was also another year of lower retention than hoped for. From fall freshman year to fall sophomore year, retention of the class of 2022 was 81.2%, according to numbers provided by Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich. That number for the class of 2021 was 81%.
The school is currently collecting data to learn where students who left Knox went instead, as well as those who chose not to go to Knox after being admitted. This helps the college discover why retention has lagged two years in a row.
Additionally, the sophomore to junior year retention for the class of 2021 was slightly lower than recent years with a rate of 90.3%.
There are some promising statistics for the freshman class, however. 20% of the students are international and 44% of the domestic students are people of color.
The origins of students has also shifted. With fewer students from Illinois, students from other places and demographics have increased.
“We did well in certain geographic areas like Colorado, we did extremely well in Colorado,” Steenis said.
This year had the second largest admittance pool Knox has ever had, with 2,369 students admitted, just 20 below the 2017 number.
The Early College Program has also brought in 11 non-degree seeking students, who along with post bacc and a few others bring the total enrollment to 1,258. Part of the hope for the Early College Program is to get high school students interested in applying to Knox for their degree.
Steenis pointed to a variety of programs that he anecdotally expected to be good draws for Knox, such as the business and bachelor of science programs, but explained that the effects of these programs are not really seen until three to five years after they are implemented.
As for the students’ role, Steenis pointed to social media, recommending students and the Hometown High School campaign as ways to help get younger students interested in Knox. He hopes that students can give a balanced and fair view of Knox so students who consider attending will actually know what to expect. Word of mouth is still one of the main ways high schoolers learn about Knox.
“Everybody on campus plays a role in that,” Steenis said. “And I think we’re increasingly aware of the importance of that.”
Programs like the living-learning communities, Spark, TRIO, First Year Residential Experience and the McNair scholars help get students interested and keep them here, but Steenis also emphasized that it is a holistic effort.
“All of these things are done in essence to say, ‘What are the things we think we do well as a college? What are the things that we think students really benefit from and are transformative in their experiences here and how do we make sure we’re providing as many of those opportunities as possible?’ ” Steenis said.