CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Tuesday announced their 10-day enrollment figures, indicating that fall 2017 enrollment will be 14,554, a decline of 8.96 percent compared to the fall of 2016.
The largest drop was seen in the incoming freshman class, which has 408 fewer students than fall of 2016, or a 19.19 percent decrease.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, new chancellor Carlo Montemagno said the decline was anticipated, and cited multiple reasons for the loss, including the state budget impasse and the way in which the university had communicated about itself in the past.
Despite this tough news, Montemagno, who started at the university Aug. 15, said the university had experienced some positive developments not directly reflected in these figures.
Continued increases in ACT scores for new freshman, ongoing growth in freshman retention rates and retention in transfer student enrollment all pointed to positive growth for the university.
“The quality of students attending the university is on the rise. Our average ACT score is up (to) 22.82 from an average of 22.17 two years ago, and in the past year we have been able to maintain our transfer student enrollment,” Montemagno said.
Montemagno said steady transfer student numbers show that students who have directly experienced the quality of the educational experience SIU offers have been getting the message that this is a place they want to come and complete their studies.
“And the ACT increases signal that we can continue to build on our efforts to attract outstanding students to SIUC,” Montemagno said.
A multi-pronged plan
Montemagno embraced the challenge to grow the university’s enrollment, which he envisioned as a comprehensive, university-wide effort requiring a multi-pronged approach.
“The first element is getting a student to engage — to have them come to study at SIUC,” Montemagno said.
To do that, Montemagno said the university needs do a better job of communicating what it is that is great about the institution to the incoming freshman, so it shows an opportunity for moving forward.
“We need to re-envision ourselves as a university to make our message appealing and fit the needs of this new generation of students,” Montemagno said.
Toward that end, last week Montemagno launched an online survey polling students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and local business owners to get their feedback on what they think the university should look like in 2025.
The second element needed to grow enrollment, Montemagno said, is to make sure that once a student comes to SIUC that they are successful.
“We want to make sure that every student who comes here as a freshman not only grabs the proverbial brass ring, but graduates with that brass ring,” Montemagno said.
In order to provide that experience, Montemagno said one of the things the university is looking at is “right-sizing” the institution.
“There is a connotation of right-sizing as a code word for making cuts, or eliminating jobs, but that is not the intention," Montemagno said.
The intention, he said, is to determine how big the university needs to be to ensure it provides a comprehensive educational experience to the students that come here, and one that is indicative of a flagship university.
“We have to be able to make a personal connection with our students so that they don’t get lost in a milieu of being among 40,000 students. We want the students to know the faculty and the faculty to know the students,” Montemagno said.
Right-sizing, Montemagno said will make sure that SIUC’s infrastructure is designed in the right proportion to meet fully and efficiently the needs of the institution.
Additionally, he said, the process provides information to the surrounding community for those making investments in businesses and infrastructure that support the community, and makes sure the economic vibrancy of the community expands.
“There is a number attached to how big we should be to provide a revenue stream that allows us to provide all the opportunities that we want to provide. And after we complete the survey period, we will determine a target number that says ‘This is as big as we want be and we won’t grow bigger than that’,” Montemagno said.
The third element necessary for enrollment growth, Montemagno said, is providing academic programs that show SIU provides a compelling educational experience that can’t be achieved in other places.
For this to happen, Montemagno said, there needs to be a significant change in allocation of resources as SIU redefines and repositions itself for the next 150 years.
“Some programs will go away, some programs will have resources added to them, and there will be some new programs that get established,” Montemagno said.
Montemagno said students concerned about what the reallocation of resources means to their course of study should be reassured.
“I can tell you that any student that is enrolled in a program will have that program supported until they graduate. If a program gets moved from one college to another, that occurs at the administrative level,” Montemagno said.
Montemagno said he understands why some people might worry, but that his primary job is to make sure that students have the best experience possible, so when they leave the university, they are prepared to be leaders.
“I want to make sure that the educational experience they get will support them throughout their entire career, not just through their first job,” Montemagno said.
Montemagno also cautioned those making comparisons between enrollment numbers at SIUC and SIUE.
“SIUE is evaluated by U.S. News & World Report as a regional institution. SIUC is evaluated as a national comprehensive research institution, so they are distinctly different. SIUC is the flagship university in the SIU system. And as the flagship we are committed to being an innovator of education, an enabler of prosperity and a place where discovery of new ideas and new knowledge is founded. And we intend to move that forward,” Montemagno said.
Montemagno acknowledged this growth will take some time.
“We operate with a product life cycle, if you want to call it that, of four years — it takes four years between the freshman that come in next year and when they graduate,” he said. “As we advance the institution forward, initially you’re not going to see very much change and then you’ll see very rapid acceleration of the impact of that change.”
People wishing to participate in the SIU Survey have until September 8 to do so by visiting www.surveymonkey.com/r/SIUvision2025