By Justin Baggott
SIUC’s enrollment peaked in 1991 and has dropped 19 percent since then, with the root cause being the lack of identity. But the looming question is, “How do we stop this decline and develop a new identity?”
What you don’t do is try to compete with the Ivy League in academics or the Southeastern Conference in sports. You also cannot expect to regain the “fun school” identity when most think just the opposite of SIUC and Carbondale. We were fortunate to have had that identity in the first place, because Carbondale does not have the obvious appeal of Las Vegas, Southern California, Florida or New York. We should be able to compete on cost, but we don’t so we only have one option left.
I think there is a top concern emerging for parents and prospective students, which is the safety ranking. The great thing about this is most schools haven’t or cannot solve this issue. SIUC’s safety ranking is 409th, which is pathetic considering the peaceful community we live in compared to many other universities. SIUC can continue to chase the pipe dream of being known for academics, but the obvious choice is to reach for No. 1 in safety rankings — and for that to become SIUC’s new identity.
We need money to implement the plan. The state is broke, taxing residents is always a bad idea, SIUC already struggles to make ends meet and many alumni are reluctant to donate. SIUC should get approval to sell at least $700 million in bonds. That money will be used to remodel, modernize and better secure the campus.
The money would secure the campus as well as make campus travel much more convenient for students. Any security system needs a wall and cameras, so we will build a wall around the main part of campus and it will be locked down, with only two access points for visitors and only one way for students to access the campus. Students would be required to enter the campus on the new monorail system, which will have entry platforms at multiple locations. The monorail will start near Brush Towers and wrap around the campus, with a new train every ten minutes. All commuting students will park at the SIU Arena and enter the monorail from there. There will be a campus police checkpoint at each entry point with metal detectors and X-rays, similar to the airport.
There will only be two locations to enter campus by car, and those riding bikes will have a special lane at each of these. The need for a bike on campus will be greatly reduced by the monorail system, so cyclists will be encouraged to park at one of the monorail platforms.
These measures will make SIUC modern and secure and attract today’s high school graduates and parents. SIUC will have the best security ranking in the country. What better to be known for than safety? We can market this to young women and then market the high gender gap numbers to young men. That solves the identity issue, which in turn will solve the enrollment problem.