September 03, 2013

SIU attracts strong freshman class

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- New recruitment, financial aid and scholarship strategies, along with a growing reputation as a national research university that gives students strong personal attention, are among the factors that helped Southern Illinois University Carbondale attract its largest freshman class in 20 years.

The freshman class is also among the best qualified in recent years, said SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng.

“SIU has always attracted top academic achievers,” Cheng said. “With this year’s revamped scholarship program, we were thrilled to be able to remove financial barriers for many more deserving students.

 “This fall, we awarded academic scholarships to 750 enrolled freshmen compared to 148 last fall,” she added. “Among this group, the average ACT was 27, with about half scoring between 24 and 27 and the other half between 28 and 35. In addition, 264 freshmen enrolled in our honors program compared to 87 last fall. These are astounding and very positive results.”

According to the official 10th day enrollment report released today (Sept. 3), there are 2,571 freshmen enrolled, an increase of 12.7 percent compared to a year ago. Total fall enrollment stands at 17,964 compared to 18,847, a decline of 4.7 percent, over a year ago.

Overall enrollment reflects increases in the number of students from central Illinois as well as from other states and countries. However, the university experienced declines in the number of transfer students and students enrolling at off-campus and military locations.

“The decline in students who transfer to SIU and take classes off-site reflect national economic pressures on students and families,” Cheng said. “We are working to address these challenges.

“Our overall enrollment also continues to reflect our smaller 2010 freshman class. This year’s class is 15 percent larger than the 2010 class, and just as our large class this year will benefit enrollment for the next four years, smaller classes in previous years remain part of our overall enrollment picture,” Cheng added.

The Class of 2017 includes students from 30 states and 24 countries, and its average ACT score is a full point higher than a year ago. The average high school grade point average of the freshman class has increased each year since 2010.

Significant changes in student recruitment, which included introducing SIU to thousands of students nationwide with new recruitment materials and national outreach strategies, led to a record 14,118 applications for admission.

“Students who might not have considered us before discovered the academic opportunities available here,” Cheng said. “We continue to recruit regionally and statewide and have significantly expanded our recruitment nationally, as well.”

Other highlights of the fall semester include:

• SIU attracted the largest number of new international students in 20 years. Undergraduate international enrollment increased 20.5 percent, and total international enrollment is up 10.7 percent. Undergraduate, master’s degree and doctoral students from 120 nations are enrolled this fall. Additionally, 269 students not reflected in the official enrollment figures are studying in the university’s Center for English as a Second Language, and two-thirds of them will register at SIU when they achieve the appropriate language proficiency.

• Eight colleges and the School of Law recorded increases in new students. The colleges of engineering and applied arts and sciences experience overall enrollment growth.

• Enrollment in the University Honors Program continues to grow. In 2010, the program’s total undergraduate enrollment was 220; this fall it is above 600 students.

• Online course enrollments are up 36 percent over a year ago.

• The freshman class reflects the university’s longstanding commitment to diversity: 29 percent of students are African American and 10 percent are Hispanic. The Class of 2017 is evenly divided between male and female students. Forty-five percent of new students represent the first generation in their families to attend college.

Cheng said that the university focused on admitting the best qualified students and denied admission to a larger number of students this year than in previous years.

“We conducted a careful analysis of student retention over the past two years and revised our admission process in order to be sure that the students we admitted were truly prepared for college and could be successful at SIU,” she said. “We believe that these efforts will lead to greater student retention in the years ahead.

“Our retention has been historically low and has dropped in recent years for a number of reasons, including changes in federal and state financial aid,” Cheng added. “While our retention rate held steady this year, an encouraging sign, we want to be sure we have programs and structures in place to retain more students and see that number grow.”

The university has implemented several new approaches to enhance retention. For the first time this fall, all new, on-campus freshmen received a Dell Latitude 10 tablet through the “Mobile Dawg” initiative. The tablets are pre-loaded with e-texts and other materials students need for several courses, saving them money compared to the cost of traditional textbooks. The tablets also feature an array of applications that will better connect students to campus life.

“The tablets will facilitate learning in many ways, particularly because they enable students to be engaged no matter where they are,” Cheng said.

All freshmen are also part of the University College, which eases the transition from high school to college. This year, first-year academic advising has been expanded and centralized in the University College. Also, the university joined the Educational Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative program, a national program that has resulted in significant retention growth for participating institutions.

“Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, the student success program uses data analysis,” Cheng said. “Our advisers and faculty will have a much clearer picture of factors contributing to individual student success, which will in turn help them work with students to identify and reduce obstacles to degree completion.”