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CARBONDALE – The number of Carbondale students applying to Southern Illinois University just got higher.

During the 2014-15 school year, about 88 seniors from Carbondale Community High School applied to their hometown university. So far this year, 135 students have applied – 126 of them on Friday during an applications drive at the high school.

SIU admissions personnel said the application drive, which took place in the high school’s media center, is part of a renewed effort to expand SIU’s reach among students from Metropolis to Mount Vernon.

“We want to show our commitment,” said Josephine Evans, SIU’s new admissions director, who joined the team this summer. “We’re committed to our region. … We want to be part of the community and students’ lives.”

In fall 2011, nearly 23 percent of SIU’s students hailed from Southern Illinois. Since then, that number has slipped slightly every year. In fall 2014, less than 21 percent of students called the region home.

Recruiters will be offering similar drives, in which the university’s $40 application fee is waived, at nearly two dozen high schools throughout the region this fall – and at prospective-student reception on Saturday at the Student Recreation Center. The event will take place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

At lunchtime in the CCHS media center, about a dozen high school students, some donning Terrier black and white, sat at computers filling out applications. SIU admissions coordinators Rachel Harvel and Michelle Rust stood by to answer any questions.

“One of our big efforts has always been, in Southern Illinois, to make them aware of what’s in their backyard,” Harvel said. “You don’t have to go hours away to get a great university experience.

Students saved more than $4,000 in application fees during the event. CCHS counselor Erinn Murphy said the savings encouraged more than a few students to apply, when they might not have otherwise.

“There’s going to be some students who might have a scholarship offer who might not have applied, and might end up at SIU,” she said. “The end game ultimately could be different for some kids, with big wins.”

And applying this early in the year means CCHS students will be more likely to snag those valuable merit-based scholarships, Murphy said.

For Ebony Spivey, an 18-year-old senior who applied to SIU on Friday, the application drive enhanced her interest in the university.

“It actually made me put it closer up in my top five,” she said. “I didn’t know what the application process was like, and I was kind of afraid to pay for one and not get accepted or something like that. It was just a good experience.”

Spivey said she hopes to study dental hygiene next year.

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

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