WIU sees lowest freshmen enrollment in generations, small business owners feel the impact

MACOMB, Illinois--With more than 30 years in business, making a pizza comes easy at Gelsosomo’s Pizzeria in Macomb, but business, owner Chris Vuwick says is changing.

“It just seems like there are not a lot of people here looking for jobs and it’s been difficult to maintain the sales numbers that we’re used to… the economy in the town is just down and I think enrollment plays a part of it,” says Vuwick.

This year Western Illinois University welcomed less than a thousand freshmen, the smallest incoming class in generations. It is also almost 300 fewer students than last year.

“In some cases, it has been more drastic in recent years with the budget impasse and the cost of education becoming more of a challenge,” says Ron Williams, Vice President for Student Services at WIU.

Just 10 years ago there were more than 13,000 students enrolled at Western, now there are less than 9,000. The University is trying to turn that around with more outreach programs, cuts in tuition and offering more scholarships.

“We have revised our financial aid systems, our scholarship program to try to get students as much money as we can, based on their merit and their need,” says Williams.

Management at Gelsosomo’s is using social media to talk to students directly, even though there are fewer of them this year.

“We didn’t do a lot of advertising. Business was steady we didn’t have to work so hard for it. Now it’s been harder to reach the students,” says Vuwick.