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SIU students and faculty walk between classes in September 2014 on campus.

The Southern File Photo

CARBONDALE—For the second semester in a row, enrollment at SIU is on the rise – albeit only slightly.

The university’s student population grew to 16,684 this spring, a jump of 65 students, as compared to spring 2014, according to an enrollment report released this week.

The uptick comes on the heels of nine consecutive years of downward-trending enrollment. Between fall 2004 and fall 2013, enrollment plummeted 16.8 percent, from 21,587 to 17,964. (University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said spring enrollment typically falls off, as many students graduate in December.)

“We were thrilled,” said Interim Provost Susan Ford. “This is the first time in quite a long time that our spring numbers have been not just stable, but up. They’re up in so many categories.”

Goldsmith and Ford attributed the slight increase this semester to the university’s ongoing retention efforts.

About nine months ago, SIU rolled out a two-year plan aimed at identifying and supporting groups of students more likely to drop out or fail to return.

Those groups include minority students, students who performed poorly on the ACT and students who have yet to declare a major, among others.

Since the plan’s adoption, Goldsmith said university officials have increased mentoring and counseling programs while offering more courses aimed at helping students transition into college.

“It was a much more intentional, university-wide effort than what we had done previously,” she said. “We exceeded our goals significantly in many areas just in the first year of the plan.”

In addition to those target groups, the university’s plan also emphasized retaining undergraduates between freshman and sophomore years.

This semester’s numbers prove the university is making strides in that arena, too, Goldsmith said. The number of sophomore students this semester jumped by 19.6 percent, or 351 students, as compared to the same time last year.

International enrollment also increased slightly, from 1,710 to 1,766.

But Ford and Goldsmith agreed there’s still work to do. This semester’s senior class enrollment dipped by about 9.1 percent from last spring, from 4,390 to 3,989.

“We have really focused our efforts on freshman-to-sophomore retention,” Goldsmith said. “We need to expand those efforts – and we are – to the upper classes as well. We need to make sure that we are engaging those students, that we’re advising them.”

Graduate and PhD student enrollment also dropped, from 3,840 to 3,619, or about 5.8 percent.

Ford said the decline lines up with a decrease in faculty.

“As our faculty numbers decline, the first place we’ll see a permanent impact is in PhD student numbers,” said Ford, who also serves as the vice chancellor for academic affairs. “PhD students require a lot of one-on-one mentoring, and they come to work in a very narrow content area," she said.




Sarah Graham is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering higher education and Union County.

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