September 04, 2008

Officials believe economy is affecting enrollment

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Fall semester enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is down 1.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

Official 10th day figures show total enrollment of 20,673, compared to 20,983 students a year ago, a drop of 310 students.

Interim Chancellor Samuel Goldman noted several bright spots, including an increase in freshman enrollment for the second consecutive year. This year’s freshman class is up by 119 students compared to a year ago. The sophomore class grew by 38 students, and the number of seniors grew by three.

“When it comes to enrollment, we are facing economic and competitive challenges that we haven’t seen in a generation,” Goldman said. “That’s why we have several initiatives under way now as part of our planning for next year. We are focused on retention issues and I am confident that a number of new programs, including the First-Year Experience, which begins next year, will make a positive difference.”

Officials believe economic factors contributed to the drop in the junior class, from 3,625 a year ago to 3,275 this fall. The number of continuing students enrolling for their junior year fell by 210, while the number of students transferring to SIUC for their junior year fell by 132 compared to last year.

Victoria E. Valle, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management, said some students are choosing to stay closer to home.

“When we surveyed transfer students, about a quarter of them said they weren’t transferring anywhere, they were staying longer where they were,” she said. “For continuing students, we believe it’s the economy. Continuing students, at that level, may be transferring to schools closer to home, or are not going to school at all.”

Valle’s office is using qualitative surveying, through phone calls and surveys, to learn more about students’ choices.

“We are looking closely to find out where students are,” she said. “If they’re not in school, we are going to try to get them back. If they transferred somewhere else, we want to try to find out what happened.”

In the Graduate School, John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and graduate dean, noted that enrollment has been hovering around the 4,000-student level for four or five years, and this year’s enrollment of 3,969 is in line with that trend.

“The economy is often a significant factor influencing graduate enrollment, and sometimes in unusual ways,” Koropchak noted. “Most of the difference between last year's level and this year's results from a decline in the number of unclassified graduate students, those students who are not yet admitted to a program, and who may be particularly sensitive to economic factors. A decline in international graduate enrollment accounts for the balance.”

Koropchak also pointed out that the Graduate School had “a particularly large number” of master’s and doctoral graduates in August, “which may mean that for economic reasons our students are working to graduate faster, which would be a good outcome."