In a historic year marked by a global pandemic and new leadership, Governors State University is reporting surging enrollments in graduate students and double-digit increases in international students.
The university’s census is the official 10-day enrollment report.
Despite a dip in undergraduate headcount enrollment of 5.74 percent, increases in full-time graduate and international students offered some balance in a year upended by COVID-19.
Freshmen enrollment dropped to 209 students, down from last year’s historic high of 263 students, the largest class since the university began admitting freshmen in 2014.
Paul McGuinness, associate vice president for enrollment management and athletics, said the 209 incoming freshmen reflect a return to what is average for an incoming freshman class.
Returning students are believed to be driving graduate headcount enrollment, up nearly 2.84 percent, and international students, up nearly 24 percent. Improved retention efforts and new programs are also factors.
Cheryl Green, GSU’s new president, assumed the role on July 1 as the university was navigating a new landscape shaped by COVID. She said the dip in enrollment was expected and consistent with other Illinois public universities.
Green said she was pleased with the 6 percent increase in full-time master’s candidates and 5.45 percent in doctorate degree enrollment, as well as a double-digit increase in international students.
“We’re in line with our sister universities, some of whom are flat and others slightly down overall. What I’m excited about is the surge in full-time students seeking master’s and doctorate degrees, as well as our solid fiscal position,” Green said.
The bump in graduate student enrollment reflects, in part, a trend started in the semesters leading up to the pandemic, said Jason Vignone, director of graduate admission and retention.
Vignone said the university’s new software tool improved communication with new and prospective students to create a sense of connectedness with students who felt more support to continue educational pursuits in uncertain times.
The pandemic might have caused some students to take home-based jobs or continue their roles as caregivers and rightly delay the start of a degree program due to the many constraints already in front of them.
Adding to new graduate student numbers were two new graduate programs this fall. The university added Master of Science in Human Resource Management and Master of Science in Health Informatics degrees that reflect two quickly growing segments of society. These master’s programs are expected to continue growing to meet market demand for expertise.
Overall, Vignone said the university’s dedication to improving recruitment and retention has paid off.
“We had engaged a more sustained and consistent plan that helped our students come in ready, so even though we lost students as a university, our previous efforts were able to sustain us,’’ he said.