SIU Chancellor optimistic about university’s future

Editor’s note: This is the third in the "SIU at the Crossroads" occasional series of stories examining the future of SIU through a variety of different lenses. 

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University’s enrollment is down 7.6 percent. There is nothing the SIU leadership can do about this year. But, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell believes there are some positives looking forward.

The university did lose 1,305 students from this past fall semester, which translates into about $6.5 million in lost revenue, but officials said earlier that dip was expected, and accounted for in its $21 million budget reduction.

One of the positives Colwell took away from examining the numbers a bit closer was the percentage of minority students didn’t drop too much from the previous year.

Colwell pointed out that the percent of the minority students — not the overall headcount — were not down more than 1.5 percent in any category.

“The head count went down because the total population went down, but the percentages compared to the total class wasn’t down more than 1.5 percent in any class,” he said. “Latina students actually saw an increase.”

Another bright spot in the current class, the number of juniors and seniors where up a modest 1 percent each from the previous year. Colwell said this is an effort of recruiting students from junior colleges and the retention efforts that have been occurring for several years at SIU.

“We used to expect those (junior college) students to come here, and we can’t do that anymore,” he said. “We are actively recruiting those students.”

He said the retention efforts are working, but it was nothing that was created this year.

“You don’t turn retention around overnight,” he said. “Advising has been huge as well making sure students are headed on the right path and taking the right classes.”

Colwell also give credit to the University College program at SIU. The program helps entering SIU students be prepared for college and understand the challenge in front of them.

Increased standards

Obtaining admission to SIU isn’t as easy as it once was in the past. Colwell said the university needed to be sure that the students who were admitted, were students the school could serve. He said admitting students who weren’t ready for college yet, take manpower and money.

“This was in no attempt to get rid of any demographic,” Colwell said. “That is just silly talk.”

He said the school has to be sure it is bringing in students who will stay in school for four years, citing the fact SIU invests a lot of money in students and not just in scholarships.

“We have to get them degreed and get them out in the world and be successful,” he said.

One reason the enrollment numbers may have been a couple hundred students down is because SIU held firm on the May 1 deadline for admission. Colwell said the university didn’t open the floodgates on July 1 this past year when it didn’t have the desired enrollment. He said there is data that shows students who come after May 1 are more likely to not be retained.

Along the lines of increased academic standards is the fact the average ACT increased, according to Colwell. He said the average for the university went from 22.3 to 22.7.

“Which is statistically a huge jump,” he said.

He said SIU typically admitted a bit higher than the national average of about 21 on the test, but the jump could be attributed to the school didn’t admit students scoring in the 11-16 ACT score range.

Sweet Spot

There has been talk about a “sweet spot” at SIU. Basically, Colwell calls it the number of students the university can serve based upon knowing there will not be an influx of associate degrees.

The days of 25,000 students are over. When the campus accommodated that many students, Colwell said about 5,000 to 6,000 students were obtaining associate degrees. There were about 50 associate degree programs, and now there are three.

Colwell said he doesn’t know what that “sweet spot” number is yet, and it hasn’t been discussed, but the leadership at SIU knows that number exists.

When asked if this enrollment total is rock bottom for SIU, he said he thinks so.

“There is a sense of optimism, maybe we had to hit rock bottom to figure out what was the best way to get the recruitment folks focused to get some of the fat out of places,” Colwell said. “Our folks are trying to do the right. Their hearts are in the right spots.”

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September 18, 2016 at 06:29AM

SIU Chancellor optimistic about university’s future

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