Rising Demand: Number of Undergraduate Applicants Doubles in Just Three Years as Illinois Tech Continues to See Surge of Interest



By Tad Vezner
An Illinois Tech student smiles while walking on campus

Even after a surge in student enrollment at Illinois Institute of Technology in fall 2023, culminating in the highest enrollment in more than 30 years, the university—armed with a slate of new progressive initiatives—aimed to go even higher. 

Given recent downward trends in undergraduate enrollment at higher education institutions across the United States, aiming higher with a growth mindset was an ambitious target.

Even so, Illinois Tech, and its experiential- and career-driven multidisciplinary education, is achieving the desired outcome. The university is tracking a 35-plus percent year-over-year increase in its fall 2024 undergraduate applications and admits. This is only a continuation of the university’s growth over the last three years: Illinois Tech has seen an approximate doubling of the number of its first-year applicants in that time period, from more than 5,900 in fall 2021 to more than 11,800 for fall 2024.
These numbers help paint a broader picture of Illinois Tech’s growth in prospective student interest when compared with national trends. 

According to the latest National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data, Illinois Tech’s 2023 first-year student enrollment growth was three times higher than the national average and four times higher than the national average for private, nonprofit, four-year colleges. Since 2010—and particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—undergraduate enrollment for colleges nationwide has dropped for the first time in decades, down 5.6 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2023. Student surveys point toward finances as a potential factor.

Comparatively, Illinois Tech has consistently focused on improving student outcomes and earnings relative to college costs. Recent rankings data reflects this: In the most recent Wall Street Journal/College Pulse 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S. list, Illinois Tech ranks #1 in Illinois overall and #16 in the nation for salary impact relative to the cost of attendance. Additionally, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 Best National University Rankings, Illinois Tech ranks #29 on its Best Value Schools list and in top 100 universities nationally.

University leaders point to innovative programs that focus on hands-on, experiential learning—particularly in tech-related fields—as a reason for the enrollment surge.

“This remarkable surge in applications and admissions is a testament to the growing recognition of Illinois Tech's multidisciplinary degrees, which are centered on experiential learning pedagogy and yield exceptional career outcomes for our graduates,” says Mallik Sundharam, Illinois Tech’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “Our recent accolades in national rankings further underscore our dedication to providing a top-tier education that prepares students from all walks of life for success in the workforce. We are humbled to witness such overwhelming interest in Illinois Tech, and we eagerly anticipate welcoming a talented and diverse cohort of students to our community.”

“At Illinois Tech, our commitment is measured by our dedication to access and student success,” continues Sundharam. “We define ourselves by our ability to welcome and support students from all backgrounds, striving to eliminate barriers to higher education attainment. We take pride in the fact that more than 30 percent of our students are first-generation and 35 percent are Pell Grant-eligible, a testament to our founding mission.” 

Illinois Tech’s one-of-a-kind Elevate program—a commitment to career readiness that incorporates guaranteed access to a robust suite of hands-on experiences that are focused on preparing students for career success—has contributed to the record-breaking surge in enrollment, Sundharam says. Illinois Tech pioneered experiential learning, launching the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program nearly 30 years ago. 

IPRO brings together students from diverse majors to work in teams to solve real-world problems, often on behalf of project sponsors. In this required program, students gain twenty first-century skills in literacy, such as social and emotional learning, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. 

It’s evident that Illinois Tech’s enduring legacy as an avenue of opportunities continues to drive the university’s advancement.

“I think at Illinois Tech, with the smaller class size and interprofessional collaboration, you get forced to work with people outside your major as a requirement to graduate. If you do an IPRO, that’s essentially ownership of a smaller internship project. That was a big draw for me,” says Seth Graham (Mechanical Engineering, M.A.S. ’20), a former Elevate participant who is now a machine learning research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

While studying at Illinois Tech, Graham conducted research for the university’s Space Weather Lab. He also completed an internship during his first year at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he did mission planning for the Mars sample-return mission. Both experiences opened big doors for his career.

“I never thought I’d get to work on a NASA mission. With my current job, they saw NASA and a semester of research at the Space Weather Lab and they said, ‘This is a good candidate.’ They told me that after hiring me,” Graham says.

Sundharam also points to several recent Illinois Tech programs that have placed a strategic emphasis on improving access for first-time students, first-generation learners, transfer students, and lifelong learners, including those in international markets.

Signature programs such as Discover+ and Illinois Tech Ascend epitomize the university’s dedication to broadening access to a top-tier education. And this spring—in partnership with Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago—Illinois Tech announced the launch of the Runway 606 initiative, which aims to expand STEM pathways for CPS students and reduce their path from high school to a master’s degree by up to two years.

Illinois Tech’s “meet-the-learners-where-they-are” initiative has also focused on learners who are already in the workforce. For lifelong learners, Illinois Tech partnered last year with Coursera to offer four new industry-aligned degree programs, incorporating industry credentials into academic qualifications with courses mapped to industry standards and offering course credit for industry certifications. Hundreds of learners from around the globe are already enrolled in these groundbreaking programs, which are designed to remove barriers to access and to provide a pathway to a high-quality education for all students.