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SIU enrollment

Pulliam Hall is seen in the background as students walk between classes at SIU in September 2017.

CARBONDALE — Since she was hired last May to help turn around declining enrollment at SIU Carbondale, Jennifer DeHaemers has heard the same complaint over and over again, in Southern Illinois.

“I keep hearing that we’re so expensive that students choose SEMO (Southeast Missouri State University) or Murray State [University] because of the cost,” said DeHaemers, SIUC’s associate chancellor for enrollment management.

At first glance, administrators acknowledge, that belief appears true. SIUC does charge more in tuition and fees — $14,599 for the 2018-2019 academic year — than regional competitors like SEMO ($13,155) and Eastern Illinois University ($11,510), though it’s cheaper than Murray State ($16,176), for Illinois residents.

But as SIU Carbondale bolsters its recruiting efforts, the university is encouraging students to look beyond the sticker price and focus on financial aid.

Some 87 percent of this year’s incoming students received it at SIUC, as do the great majority of students at many local public institutions.

But data shows SIUC is especially generous.

Last fiscal year, SIUC’s scholarships, grants and tuition waivers covered 31 percent of all tuition to be charged, saving undergraduate and grad students some $42.5 million, according to Judy Marshall, the university’s Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance.

That’s more total institutional financial aid dollars than SIUE, SEMO or Murray State, per 2017-2018 numbers.

SIUC also appears to provide more support for its neediest students than its regional competitors. Data from the 2017-2018 school year shows SIUC undergrads with proven financial need had an average of 61 percent of that need met, via financial aid packages averaging over $15,000.

SEMO covered 59 percent of its undergraduate students’ proven need, with average packages of almost $9,600.

EIU covered 57 percent of undergraduate demonstrated financial need, with packages averaging about $13,000, and Murray State covered 34.4 percent of undergraduate needs, with packages averaging almost $12,300.

“We put a lot of money in to making SIUC more affordable for students, and I don’t know that that story is really out there,” DeHaemers told the Southern in late December.

And next year’s SIUC students could be looking at an even sweeter deal.

SIU President to students: SIUC must ‘shrink its footprint’

The university is graduating a senior class that dwarfs its current freshman class. And with no financial aid cutbacks planned, according to DeHaemers, money could be spread thicker among fewer students.

If budgetary promises hold at the state level, the university’s scholarship funding should actually grow over the next five years. The state has promised SIUC some $3.8 million, through the AIM HIGH Grant program, a state initiative that encourages Illinois public schools to develop new scholarships to attract more in-state students.

Eventually, DeHaemers plans to reassess and maybe slightly reduce the amount of money SIUC awards via tuition waivers, one of the university’s many forms of financial aid.

“It’s money that can’t be spent on hirings, on facilities and technology, and other things that benefit students,” DeHaemers said.

Across Illinois, 67 percent of all tuition waivers granted to students on the basis of financial need were issued by SIUC In Fiscal Year 2017, Marshall told the SIU Board of Trustees, in December.

"This campus is committed to affordability and accessibility," she continued. "We know that we cannot continue to raise tuition and fees, we must grow enrollment."

SIUC will not seek to increase tuition or fees next year, Marshall assured the Board.

To take full advantage of the financial aid available to attend college at a two- or four-year institution, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a federal government form more commonly known as the FAFSA. The document is available online and must be completed each year.

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Gabriel Neely-Streit is a reporter for The Southern covering higher education.

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