students with saluki dogs

SIU Carbondale students start off their academic year with fun activities, including meeting Saluki dogs.

September 01, 2021

SIU Carbondale stops downward spiral and enrolls largest freshman class in five years

by Kim Rendfeld

CARBONDALE, Ill. — With its largest class of new freshmen in five years, Southern Illinois University Carbondale has stopped a downward spiral in enrollment. This fall, 1,422 Salukis are starting their college career, an increase of 4.5% over their predecessors. 

“Our faculty, staff, students and alums have gone above and beyond to change the downward trajectory of the declines we have experienced since 2016,” said SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin Lane. “I want to personally thank each of them for rallying around enrollment and working tirelessly to show the unique opportunities future Salukis have. Today’s news is the result of all that effort.” 

Many trends this fall show the university is moving in the right direction, Lane said.

  • For the first time since 2014, the university has increased its freshman class for two consecutive years, and it did that during a pandemic.
  • About three-fourths of last year’s freshmen, 75.5%, returned this fall.
  • The number of new transfers increased 3.5% over last year to 1,175 students.
  • The student population is diverse – about 36% identify as a minority – and it is almost evenly divided among men and women.
  • Enrollment from the Southern Illinois region increased nearly 34% from the previous year. 

Since 2016, SIU Carbondale has experienced steep declines in enrollment of 8%, 9%, 12%, 9% and 2.8%. This year, overall enrollment is essentially flat compared to last year; 11,266 students attend SIU Carbondale, 0.9% less (100 students) than fall 2020. Lane said the figures indicate enrollment is stabilizing. 

Almost 9,200 prospective students, about 16% more than the previous year, applied to the university. 

“The number of applications confirms that people are interested in SIU Carbondale,” Lane said. 

Measures the university took include partnering with local and statewide superintendents, principals, counselors, state legislators and community college presidents; restructuring scholarships and offering financial aid packages earlier;  launching the Saluki Commitment for graduating high school seniors and Saluki Transfer Commitment for community college transfers — two programs that close financial gaps in tuition for students who qualify; reinstituting the Dr. Seymour Bryson Future Scholars summer program; targeted advertising featuring academic programs; and creating an enrollment task force that met weekly to discuss strategies for increasing recruitment and retention. 

The pandemic posed many challenges on and off campus. Many instructors and students adapted to remote teaching and learning. Restrictions in response to COVID-19 prevented recruiters from visiting high schools and community colleges in person and limited in-person events on campus. SIU thanks all the high school and college administrators and staff for assisting with its enrollment activities, Lane said. 

“Despite the obstacles caused by COVID, our campus community persevered,” Lane said. “They followed safety protocols, and many became vaccinated. Because of their diligence, we were among the first universities to announce in-person fall classes and activities, and we have kept that promise.” 

Another very positive sign is that enrollment from the Southern Illinois region increased markedly from the previous year. Since July 2020, university officials have met and built relationships with superintendents, principals, counselors and other educators in the region and will continue to do so. 

“We will analyze the data further and see where we can improve, especially as the recruitment cycle for fall 2022 gets underway,” Lane said. “Today, Salukis everywhere have good reason to be proud.”


Chancellor Austin Lane interacts with students before fall classes begin.