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Rockford College enrollment up 6%; many reasons for increase

Monday, October 25, 2010  
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By Cathy Bayer
Posted Oct 25, 2010 @ 11:45 PM
Last update Oct 26, 2010 @ 06:06 AM

ROCKFORD —
Rockford College’s fall enrollment climbed 6 percent over last fall’s to 766 students — the highest fall enrollment for the college since at least 2004.

The incoming transfer student enrollment is also at the highest it’s been in at least eight years. This fall, 167 of the incoming students transferred from another college, said President Robert Head.

Growth in its master’s and bachelor’s programs allowed the college to expand last spring into an office building at 5100 E. State St. Rockford College leases about 9,000 square feet in the building’s top level and remodeled it to accommodate classrooms, faculty offices and meeting rooms. It was the college’s first major expansion in about 20 years.

Head has cultivated relationships with four colleges in China, plus Japan’s Kobe College and London’s Regents College, as a means of boosting the number of international students at the local college. Thirteen international students enrolled there this year, compared with four last year.

Head said he believes the increase also can be attributed to students who enrolled in two-year community colleges to save money and now need to transfer to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree. Northern Illinois University has a presence in Rockford, but Rockford College remains the city’s only four-year college with a full campus.

"Even when the economy is bad, people decide to go to school,” Head said.

Enrollment was 701 full-time undergraduate students in fall 2003, dropped to 688 in 2006 and has been climbing since then. Officials couldn’t provide accurate total student enrollment figures for years before 2003.

Community colleges often see enrollment boom during a down economy, but there’s no trend that shows four-year colleges should also benefit, said Don Sevener, interim executive director for the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

"The economy is still in a tailspin, in Illinois at least,” he said. "We’re seeing people return to college either to upgrade some skills or finish off a degree that has maybe been languishing for a while.”

Yi Sun, a 20-year-old junior studying accounting, transferred to Rockford College this fall from China.

Coming to Rockford, she said, provides an opportunity to learn in a smaller environment. In China, she’d be in classes with 130 other students, whereas she has 10 to 12 other students in most of her classes at Rockford College, she said.

"This opportunity is not easy to get,” she said. "I miss my own country, (but) I like here.”

Statewide, college enrollment numbers won’t be reported to the Board of Higher Education until later this month, and they won’t be approved until December, Sevener said. More trends may become clear then, he said.

Reach staff writer Cathy Bayer at cbayer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1395.

This story appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/carousel/x1946667844/Rockford-College-enrollment-rises-6-percent on October 25, 2010.

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