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CARBONDALE — It’s safe to say Jennifer DeHaemers has her work cut out for her.

The incoming vice associate chancellor for enrollment management at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, who officially starts May 14, has been handed the herculean task of getting the university’s enrollment back on track.

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The entire Southern Illinois region has felt the impacts of the enrollment crisis at SIUC, where the number of students has fallen from 24,869 at the university’s peak in fall 1991 to 14,554 in fall 2017.

During a meeting Wednesday with media representatives in Anthony Hall, DeHaemers said she wasn’t deterred by the urgency of the situation.

“I didn’t have any reservations, I’ll just say that,” DeHaemers said. “I would say that it attracted me to it, because I think I can help.”

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DeHaemers was most recently associate vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at University of Missouri-Kansas City from 2011 to 2017. Under her leadership, enrollment increased from 15,492 in fall 2011 to 16,383 in fall 2017.

SIUC’s enrollment manager position has been vacant since 2014, and the position hasn’t been filled on a full-time basis since 2011.

Carlo Montemagno, who became SIUC’s chancellor last August, said he oversaw an “exhaustive, five-month search” before selecting DeHaemers for the position. A report published by Montemagno in April indicates that the initial pool of candidates was not thought to be strong enough, so the search committee elected to take additional time finding a candidate.

“It was very important to get the position filled. It was even more important to get the position filled with the right person,” Montemagno said.

So what’s the first step in staunching SIUC’s enrollment bleed? DeHaemers said she’ll start by gathering data to determine where students are coming from, what the SIUC student experience is like, how they’re “navigating the educational pathway” to the university and why some are leaving.

Because the enrollment manager position has been vacant for so long, that data-gathering effort is long overdue, she said. Next, she’ll put together an enrollment management plan, which could take nine months to a year. 

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DeHaemers outlined some strategies she employed at UMKC that could be useful in recruitment and retention at SIUC, such as eliminating unintended barriers that dissuade students from enrolling.

At UMKC, she said, she required attendance-taking from faculty to identify students who were not attending class so that her team could reach out to those students and find out how to help them. She also implemented a “major maps” system to help students understand their pathways to degree completion.

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She said national data indicate that students are willing to travel about 150 miles away from home, so she’ll be looking at areas within that radius.

“But beyond that, I really think that SIU is the kind of institution that could draw from across the country and internationally, and there are going to be pockets of students in other locations that need to find out about SIU, and that this will be a great place for them to be to pursue their education,” she said.

She said she’ll also have her team focus on casting a net close to home, where many high school students are choosing to attend colleges like Southeast Missouri State or Murray State over SIUC.

“I think that this is a great product, and I’m not making any comment on what has happened, but I do think we need to make every effort we can in every market, whether it’s towns that are within a 50-mile radius here, or 150 or 500 miles from here. If there’s a student who feels this could be the right place and who we think could be a good fit here, we need to at least offer that opportunity for them to check us out,” DeHaemers said.

The enrollment manager previously reported to the provost; Montemagno said he changed the position to report directly to him because of its importance.

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“I felt that I needed to be in a position where I was in touch with our enrollment program, because enrollment touches the entire experience — it touches bringing the students in, it responds to students’ persistence, how successful they are while they’re here, and it’s part of my philosophy where we provide a personal educational experience to students ensuring that students are successful,” he said.

DeHaemers said she believes SIUC has potential and that its enrollment challenges can be addressed.

“It took a little while to get here, where we’re at, so it’s going to take just a little while to climb back out of the hole. But I’m looking forward to working at it,” DeHaemers said.

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janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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