September 06, 2011

Latest enrollment figures show positive trends

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For the first time in four years, Southern Illinois University Carbondale has increased its new, first-time on-campus entering undergraduate enrollment by more than 5 percent, according to 10th day enrollment figures released by the University today (Sept. 6).

New, first-time on-campus entering undergraduate enrollment increased by 116 students to 2,344 or 5.2 percent more than last year, marking a major turnaround from last-year’s 10th day numbers, which showed a decrease of 136 students.

Students transferring into SIUC grew by another 65 or 3.2 percent, continuing the trend from last year which saw this category grow by 46 students. 

Another positive trend saw the decline in the number of continuing students who have left the University.  Official numbers show that category of students fell by 246, which is far fewer than the previous year’s decline of 368.  Overall, SIUC’s first-year retention rate held solid at 69 percent among its students.

Fall enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale stands at 19,817, due to softening enrollment in graduate programs.

SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng said she believes the University is turning the corner on undergraduate enrollment issues.

“We are encouraged by the progress this fall toward a University-wide enrollment turnaround,” Cheng said.  “This is the result of teamwork in Enrollment Management -- which we re-organized over the past year -- and in our colleges. 

“While we have stopped the bleeding, turning around years of decline will take time, as we have smaller classes progressing through their academic programs because we enrolled smaller cohorts during each of the last three years,” Cheng said. “We will need to continue bringing in larger classes of new freshmen and transfer students, and increase retention to realize overall enrollment growth.”

On-campus undergraduate enrollment stands a 13,339.  In graduate programs, new student enrollment stands at 554 or 10.5 percent fewer students than last year.  At the SIU School of Law, enrollment stands at 386, compared with 385 last year.

While today’s numbers marked a decline of 1.1 percent in overall enrollment, officials noted it was approximately one-third of last year’s drop and signals the University’s progress in slowing this six-year decline.

“Our intensified enrollment management and branding and marketing efforts began nearly a year ago, and we are strongly convinced that these new and additional initiatives contributed to our increases in enrollment this summer and fall,” Cheng said.

John W. Nicklow, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said this year’s official 10th day enrollment numbers indicated many positive trends.  He credited a deliberate, University-wide upbeat approach to recruitment and retention.

“These increases come as a result of the dedication of our staff and faculty, the teamwork exhibited between enrollment management units and the colleges, and the intentional efforts from everyone involved,” Nicklow said.

The quality of incoming new students stayed strong, with average test scores, grade point averages and class ranks at the same level as last year's class, even with more freshmen this year.  The University admitted 60.6 percent of this year’s applicants, compared to 61.1 percent last year and 66.8 percent in 2009. 

The gender split for this year is almost even between men (50.9 percent) and women (49.1 percent).  In terms of ethnic and racial diversity, the University saw increases in its Native American and Hispanic student populations, with its African American student population increasing to 34.4 percent of the overall student population.

This year's freshman class includes more high achievers, as SIUC continued increasing the number of University Honors students.  Among freshman students, 78 are listed as honors students as are three incoming transfer students.  Another 224 continuing students also are listed as honors students, Nicklow said, all improvements over last year, as well.  With 305 total, the University is making good progress toward its goal of doubling the number of its honors program students to 520.

Reflecting its commitment to Southern Illinois communities and students, SIUC received 40 first-time students from Carbondale Community High School, which led all high schools in that metric. Warren Township High School in Gurnee was second with 35 students and Lane Technical School in Chicago was No. 3 with 27.  Locally, Herrin High School also was a top-10 SIUC contributor, sending 16 such students to the University this year.

The University also received 237 new international students. Saudi Arabia led all countries in sending new international undergraduate students to SIUC with 14.  China and South Korea each sent three such students while Canada and Spain each sent two.  Such students also came from Brazil, India, Kuwait, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Taiwan, Venezuela and Zambia. Students from 110 countries are represented at SIUC.

The University also saw increases in enrollment from students in border states, including a 10 percent increase in the number of students from Missouri. SIUC also is seeing growth in its distance learning programs, which allow students to receive their education at locations around the world.

The University’s new Legacy Tuition Rate, which applied for the first time this fall semester, also is helping attract new students.  More than 340 students are listed as Legacy students, Nicklow said.  The program, approved by the SIU Board of Trustees in late 2010, saves 20 percent in tuition for most undergraduate programs.  It applies to newly entering freshman or transfer students with parents, stepparents or legal guardians who graduated from SIUC.

“This is a great example of the pride our alumni take in SIUC.  They feel strongly about their alma mater and they want their sons and daughters to benefit from the educational experience we offer, just as they did,” Cheng said.

Nicklow, who heads up recruitment and retention efforts, said University workers documented more than 2.2 million points of contact with students during the time between August 2010 and August 2011. Those included publications and mailings, letters, email, visits, phone calls and recruitment events, among others.

The positive trends come as the University implements several programs aimed at improving retention and success rates for its students, including its new Saluki Start-Up, new student convocation and the University College concept.  The SIU Board of Trustees in February approved creating the University College approach, which centralizes and coordinates all services supporting new freshman and transfer students to improve the campus experience for these students.

The University also recently began a new approach to teaching certain math classes that is showing great success in lifting students over the barriers that sometimes discourages their academic careers. This new way for teaching so-called “gateway” math courses incorporates a weekly, interactive software instructional laboratory to go along with twice-weekly lectures and open lab time, and is showing dramatic improvements in the percentage of students who successfully complete the courses.

Faculty members also are changing their approach to teaching composition courses. English 100, Basic Writing, is the first course offered in SIUC’s Stretch Program. In this program, students take English 100 and 101 in consecutive semesters with the same instructor, and using the same primary textbook and curriculum. This allows students flexibility in addressing their specific writing needs, at a pace that is individually defined rather than dictated by a syllabus measured by a particular timeline.