The rumor mill had been churning for months.
How much will enrollment be down at SIU? How bad will it be? Will it spell doom for the university?
When it all shook out last week, SIU officials announced that enrollment for the fall 2016 semester was down 7.55 percent.
While the number isn’t what university officials would like, the news isn’t all bad. In fact, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell said the university was prepared for the numbers.
“The decline was budgeted for,” Colwell said in a story from last week. “This is absolutely not a surprise to us.”
And, that’s good to hear. In fact, it’s music to our ears. Remember, it could have been worse. Eastern Illinois University in Charleston has seen its enrollment dip nearly 14 percent.
At SIU, the official fall enrollment is 15,987 students, down from 17,292 last year.
A look inside the numbers show that the number of juniors and seniors at SIU are up (both at about 3 percent). That shows retention efforts are working, something that SIU has worked very hard to do the past few years.
“We used to expect those students to come here, and we can’t do that anymore. We are actively recruiting those students,” Colwell said this past week in an interview with The Southern’s Dustin Duncan. “The retention efforts are working. You don’t turn retention around overnight.”
And, it is important to remember that the university is increasing its academic standards.
Gone are the days when SIU had a reputation — right or wrong — that anyone capable of filling out an admission form would be accepted.
Colwell said the university has to bring in students prepared for a college curriculum. He said attracting the right kind of student is important because the university is investing “tons of money” in the students with scholarships and grants.
To that end, Colwell said the university is admitting students with much higher ACT scores, and fewer scoring in the 11-16 ACT range.
Another thing that was nice to hear: Colwell and SIU aren’t putting the blame on the state’s budgetary issues.
“We need to do better, and we will. That, I promise you,” Colwell said. “Just because we are down, doesn’t mean we are out by any stretch.”
Yes, the state’s budget is a mess — that’s actually putting it nicely. And, it’s not quite breaking news.
It’s a positive that SIU is making retention progress in spite of the state’s budget mess.
After all, it’s a safe bet the budget issues aren’t going to magically disappear anytime soon. That seems self-evident.
Another reason for optimism is the City of Carbondale is making efforts to make the town more enticing. More specifically, city officials have been working on a downtown revitalization plan.
Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said that the drop in enrollment is “not the end of the world” in a story last week.
He has a good feeling about it, too.
“This news presents a lot of opportunity,” he said. “We are sensitive to the role we play to help (SIU) be more successful.”
And the actions are backing up Williams’ words.
Ground has already been broken on a new downtown hotel, which is much needed, and other businesses are coming in as well.
That’s a boon for SIU.
The more attractive Carbondale is for students, the better things can be.
The bottom line is this: Carbondale needs SIU and SIU needs Carbondale. And, both are making efforts to improve.
Carbondale’s plan to improve the downtown area go can only mean good things for SIU. The university’s efforts to become a better institution means a better Carbondale.
If the city and university stay on this positive path, there will be brighter days ahead for SIU and Carbondale.
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September 18, 2016 at 12:13AM