CARBONDALE — SIU Carbondale’s spring enrollment is down nearly 7 percent from this time last year, and total enrollment now stands at 17,152 students.
Yet despite 1,290 fewer students on campus from last January, Chancellor Rita Cheng said the spring numbers were actually a pleasant surprise, given an unusually large graduating class in December.
“We had one of the largest December graduations in study history,” Cheng said. “Potentially, we could have been down quite a bit.”
Instead, the campus retained roughly 83 percent of the students who entered in the fall, the norm for this transition, Cheng said. In the face of graduating seniors, SIU kept more students than anticipated through retention efforts put in place a couple of years ago.
“I don’t think this is a negative for the region,” she said. “I think the progress that we’re making is exceptional.”
Still, with total enrollment just above 17,000, the campus is well below its roughly 20,000 average student population it has held since the mid-1970s. Enrollment records housed in SIU Carbondale Institutional Research go back to 1975, when total enrollment stood at 21,214.
SIU Carbondale’s overall enrollment has been sliding since 2005.
SIU had roughly 12,000 new freshman applications for fall 2013 as of Wednesday, which is a significant increase over the 9,800 applications they had at this time in 2010, Cheng said, a trend she attributed to increased work officials are doing to market the university to more students.
“We talk about families and students putting us into their consideration stacks for colleges. That wasn’t the case before,” she said. “The fact that we’ve got 12,000 applications now means more people are saying let’s consider SIU; let’s take a look.”
It’s difficult to tell how many applications yield new freshmen, and the trend nationally has been going down. By sheer numbers alone, however, Cheng said she hopes to see more students in the fall.
Cheng said the pressures students are facing in finding and keeping financial aid for college make it more difficult to enter and stay in school. Outside of financial woes, Cheng said the university has been working to make adjusting to campus life easier for students with a University College 101 course.
Roughly 86 percent of freshman who took the course returned for the spring semester.
SIU President Glenn Poshard said he sees positive trends on the Carbondale campus but the situation remains undeniably tough, from a depressed economy, a declining population base and regional competition.
“I think this will turn around at some point in time,” Poshard said. “But the challenges that this university faces on a multitude of levels are unlike any other universities in the state face.”
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