MAKANDA — A quiet conference room at Touch of Nature became the setting for some in-depth discussions about SIU’s future Wednesday.

Board of Trustees Chairman Randal Thomas, who was appointed to serve earlier this year, called the special meeting to allow members the chance to speak in an informal setting with SIU’s top leaders: President Glenn Poshard, Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng and Edwardsville Chancellor Julie Furst-Bowe.

The morning session of the retreat was occupied with presentations by Poshard, Cheng and Bowe about recent and future goals for the different parts of the university system. The Carbondale campus’ student enrollment and public image, as well as the overall dwindling finances the university system faces, were high priorities.

Poshard offered a report on the university system’s nine stated goals for the past year, which included the review of academic programs on the campuses, collaboration between SIUC and SIUE on programs, university outreach and community service.

While he feels good about the progress, Poshard said significant changes will need to be made to the university’s business model if it is to survive in the new era of recessed economy.

“My fear is if we don’t make some of these kinds of changes…we’re going to end up privatizing higher education,” he said.

Trustee Don Lowery of Golconda acknowledged the “bleed off” of potential SIU Carbondale students to other regional colleges, such as Murray State University in Kentucky, as well as private for-profit institutions, such as Mid-Continent University.

Government officials are so intent on numeric goals the question of where a person’s degree is from has become secondary, Poshard said. He said it’s frustrating to see more and more people taking up attendance at for-profit colleges when SIU provides so many services to the region.

Losing students in Southern Illinois may come down to SIU’s image, Thomas said. He recounted some of the sentiments expressed to him in a meeting last month with members of the Carbondale business community.

People view the Carbondale campus as flailing and even unsafe for students to attend, Thomas said.

During her presentation, Chancellor Cheng said those are misleading ideas that must be combated with better messaging to the community.

Campus officials have been hard at work these last couple of years, she said, implementing a system designed to attract and keep more students at SIU Carbondale. In a few weeks, Cheng hopes to see some of that work pay off.

Cheng expects roughly 2,475 new freshmen in the fall, an increase of 345 students, or 16.2 percent, over last fall and the largest incoming freshmen class to Carbondale since 1998.

She said figures on enrollment for upper classmen would be firm as of the 10-day headcount at the semester’s start and would be released soon afterward.

The board will continue its meeting this morning at Touch of Nature. Among the expected topics is a discussion on provisions of SIU’s contract with Poshard.

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