September 08, 2015

SIU Carbondale retention up, total enrollment down

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s official enrollment figures reflect an increase in student retention and an anticipated decrease in new students, according to Acting Chancellor Randy Dunn.

Total enrollment of 17,292, is a decrease of 697 students or 3.9 percent over the previous year.

Increases in the sophomore and junior classes are attributable to the university’s emphasis on retention, Dunn said. The freshman and senior classes are smaller than the previous year, and graduate enrollment is also down.

The smaller freshman class is due in part to a decision to focus on admitting fewer students who were not well prepared to be successful in college based on their ACT scores and other factors, said Susan Ford, interim provost and vice chancellor for student affairs.

“We do students a disservice when we admit them before they are ready to be successful,” Ford said. “Many underprepared students drop out, even with the additional support we provide. At the same time, we remain committed to giving the students we do admit the tools they need to be successful if they have gaps in academic preparedness.”

In addition, Ford cited several other factors that contributed to SIU’s lower overall enrollment. They include:

  • Increased efforts to verify the plans of students who register but do not make financial commitments that signal their intention to attend. “Every institution has students, especially new students, who say they are coming but ultimately choose not to attend,” Ford said. “In the past, we have not aggressively identified these students early enough to ensure that they are not included in our enrollment totals, and our official numbers have included them. We have worked harder to verify information before our official count.”
  • A decrease in international students driven in part by changes in the Brazilian Science Mobility Program, which sent Brazilian college students to U.S. campuses. Last year, SIU enrolled approximately 200 students through the initiative. This year, the Institute of International Education, which manages the program, sent fewer students to individual institutions in order to increase their interactions with U.S. students. About 75 are attending SIU this year. “Our international enrollment has always been a strength and a highlight for SIU,” Ford said. “We are seeing some decline this year due to changes in the Brazil program and our inability to commit earlier to graduate students seeking assistantships due to the state’s budget uncertainties. Even so, with the exception of last year, we believe our international enrollment is the highest in 20 years.”
  • Greater focus on ensuring a return on the investment in recruitment and financial aid. “We had expanded our recruitment efforts across the nation to attract top students wherever they were from,” Ford said. “This is still a goal given our status as a national research university, but the shot-gun approach of recruiting nationally without targeting students interested in our areas of strength was costly and did not deliver on the investment.” In addition, Ford said, the university has “right-sized” scholarships and financial aid.  “Last year, we lost tuition revenue in spite of the fact that we increased freshman enrollment because we waived more tuition than we could afford in order to bring more students into the university,” she said. “This year we continued to offer generous financial aid and scholarship packages to individual students while we stay within the means of our budget.”

“Overall, we have been working hard to better balance our multiple emphases on enrollment, retention and budget,” Dunn said. “It’s one thing to bring in students for the sake of a number, but it’s more important that we continue to attract and support students who are prepared to be successful at the same time we manage our resources wisely. This year has been a transition year to get us on the right track.”

Dunn said the university is looking at the reason for the slightly smaller senior class, which could be attributable in part to the fact that the 2012 freshman class was smaller than the 2011 class, a difference that would carry forward to the senior year.

Graduate enrollment is also due in part to the university’s decision to delay awarding graduate assistantships due to the state budget stalemate. He said the university moved forward to fill necessary assistantships when it became clear there would be no budget for the beginning of the school year, Dunn added.

Dunn said this year’s enrollment data reflects a change in the ways the university officially counts its students. The university is now following the classifications set by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System used by the U.S. Department of Education.

“IPEDS is the federal gold standard used by many of our peer institutions, so it allows for greater clarity and consistency in reporting, both within the university and with other universities,” Dunn said.

He noted that year-to-year comparisons in some categories, including new freshman and transfer students (undergraduates in any class who are attending the university for the first time), international students and students by race and ethnicity are not possible during this transition year because of changes in how students are categorized. However, this year will serve as a baseline that will allow for comparisons in all categories in future years.

“We are working to be transparent, accurate and follow best practice,” he said.  

(Contact: Rae Goldsmith, 618/453-2589)