The choice of a college is one of the most important decisions a young man or woman will ever make.
A person’s education and the contacts and friendships made during a college career can chart a person’s career and family life. It’s not a decision that can be made lightly.
High school students and their families have numerous considerations when trying to determine which institution of higher learning best suits their personal needs.
Does the school have a good academic reputation?
Does the school have the necessary field of study?
Can we afford this school?
Is the campus, and surrounding community, a safe environment?
That checklist goes a long way toward determining college choice. But, there is still one more element that is crucial in making a final decision.
Where to live?
In today’s world, on-campus housing can be the make or break element in a student’s decision making process. The fact that on-campus housing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is aging and enrollment continues to decline is probably not coincidental.
And, to be perfectly frank, living conditions are no small consideration.
This comes as no secret to SIU’s administration. A University Housing Master Plan was released in 2011. The plan stated unequivocally that SIU Carbondale needs to upgrade its on-campus student housing.
That plan called for the demolition of Brush Towers — Neely, Schneider and Mae Smith halls. While “the towers” are iconic for SIU Carbondale grads and they make up the only thing resembling a skyline in Southern Illinois, they are aging and less than aesthetically pleasing.
The 2011 plan called for the construction of dormitories that resembled more traditional housing.
That 2011 plan also touched on Thompson Point. It was noted Thompson Point is more attractive physically because of its location on Campus Lake. But, like Brush Towers, the buildings are aging and in need of renovation.
The goal of the 2011 study was to have new housing available for the 2015 school term.
Then the budget impasse happened.
The old housing is still in place. New studies have been completed, suggesting clusters of smaller units be built near Woody Hall to make the campus more compact. And, plans were in place to raze some of the high rise units this year.
Unfortunately, Illinois’ state budget crisis intervened. The state failed to make timely payments to SIU, and budgets were slashed. The need for new, improved housing hasn’t mitigated, but the financial realities have put the project on hold.
While the current housing situation isn’t dire, it is an issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The SIU Board of Trustees acknowledged the housing matter in their last meeting, but budget constraints pushed the issue to the back burner.
If SIU Carbondale weren’t in a competitive market for students, the housing might be considered adequate. Alumni know the Towers and Thompson Point are aging. They know the dormitory rooms are small. In an earlier era, the dormitories were an acceptable option.
Times have changed.
SIU Carbondale has to compete for every student — even with its sister institution in Edwardsville.
The dormitories that were acceptable in the 1970s and '80s now seem, to be polite, rustic or quaint. Modern dormitories frequently feature common living areas and separate bedrooms for up to four students in a single unit.
In comparison, SIU Carbondale’s housing is spartan.
Without question, SIU faces serious issues, from staffing to consolidation of departments, but the importance of upgrading and modernizing student housing cannot be ignored.
Retention has proven to be an issue at SIU Carbondale. Students have to be comfortable in their surroundings. Upgrading student housing certainly won’t solve all the issues facing SIU, but it is a step in the right direction.