CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University’s fall 2016 enrollment is down 7.55 percent, according to Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell.
The official enrollment number is 15,987, which is down from last fall's reported number of 17,292.
SIU officials said Tuesday they weren’t surprised by the dip in enrollment. In fact, they knew it was coming.
“The decline was budgeted for,” Colwell said. “This is absolutely not a surprise to us.”
Officials said the loss of 1,305 students translates into about $6.5 million of loss revenue, but the university has already accounted for it in its prior $21 million reduction.
“These enrollment figures should not have an impact on the budget as it stands today,” said Rae Goldsmith, chief marketing and communications officer.
Colwell said the decline can be attributed to a small freshman class, and graduate enrollment is down because of a budget decision to decrease the number of assistantships.
Numbers from SIU show a 23.69 percent drop in the number of freshman, and a 17 percent drop in sophomores — which is the same number from last year.
There are increases in the amount of juniors and seniors, which Colwell said is a bright spot because it shows the university’s retention efforts are working.
There's also a drop in graduate students, 12 percent (431 students).
Colwell said Tuesday that the university is looking to the future — specifically the fall of 2017.
He says the university is fully staffed in admission departments, and it is going to be sure to use its resources in the best interest of the students.
Using market research to find out what students are looking for, and how the university is perceived, will be part of the efforts moving forward. Also, using social media effectively and marketing itself the best way to students.
“We can’t do this by anecdote," he said, "we have to go by what is data driven."
Terri Harfst, interim director of undergraduate admissions, said SIU needs to have a clear story, a strategy, and get more feet on the ground to continue to build relationships.
She said the admissions department is increasing prospective students it is reaching out to, and expanding the number of high schools it is visiting. Analysis is being done on communication with prospective students so the how, when and what is effective.
So far, Harfst said, the university has received more than 1,000 applications by for fall 2017, and it has accepted more than 400. This is the earliest the university has started working on admissions for the next year.
Another challenge admissions has faced in the past is not enough staff, Harfst said. The department has hired eight admission coordinators, meaning more high schools in Illinois and border states will be visited.
Also, the ability to build relationships with guidance counselors in high schools and juniors colleges will be possible.
Colwell said the goal for fall 2017 is to stem the tide of any decrease in enrollment and increase the freshman class by 10 percent.
He is aware of crime factors, and says that SIU’s crime stats are right in line with any other campuses of its size.
“Some of the things happening in Carbondale are not unique to Carbondale,” he said. “Carbondale is just indicative to a much larger national trend.”
Although Colwell recognizes this year’s numbers are the lowest the university has seen in some time, he said the university did plan for it fiscally.
“It is a different time from the days of 25,000 students” Colwell said reflecting back on when SIU had several associate degrees that it no longer offers.
He said it is too early to talk about layoffs, saying that the university does need help from the state — more than the stopgap budget passed in July provided.
However, Colwell didn’t want to blame the state for the enrollment numbers, saying SIU needed to own its enrollment.
“We need to do better, and we will. That, I promise you,” he said. “Just because we are down, doesn’t mean we are out by any stretch.”
Goldsmith said SIU is aware of losing in-state students to out-of-state colleges. She also said it is aware that out-of-state students who would normally come to Illinois are not coming anymore.
She said non-Illinois schools are using the budget impasse to recruit students, and other schools are using the crime perception of Carbondale to recruit against SIU.
“It is a challenge,” she said. “It is being used against us, even when it is not unique to us.”
She highlighted the doctoral research programs available to students which allows real-life experience before graduation.
“We just have to do a better job of making sure people are aware of that,” she said.
Colwell had a sense of optimism Tuesday, saying the university has a plan and it is going to execute.
“We have a plan that we feel good about,” he said.