SIUC’s enrollment problem is a lack of balance, not party school image

As a two-time SIU alumni from both the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, I am proud to be part of the SIU traditions.The recent opinions published  regarding enrollment issues at the Carbondale campus are partially correct.

In Justin Baggot’s letter to the editor “SIUC’s identify caused enrollment decline” published in Tuesday’s edition, he said SIUC’s enrollment decline comes from  loss of institutional identity that resulted from what he terms as the “war on fun” orchestrated by city and university administrators.

Mr. Baggot’s assessment is only a partial explanation. The actions taken by the City of Carbondale and the SIU Administration did dampen what could be coined ‘The Spirit of Delyte Morris’. Even in its heyday as a “party school”, SIU students partied, and those who could not self-regulate flunked out.

Those who could find balance graduated and went on to be leaders in their communities and career fields. In fact, in the Bursars Office in Woody Hall, there was a sign, and it still might be there, that reads that one of SIU’s primary goals as an institution is to achieve and instill a sense of balance in students.

Yes, “balance” was listed above and before the goal of “academic excellence”. Until the late 1990s, relations with SIU students, the city government and citizens were generally positive. There was a balance.

When the violence erupted, I believe much of it was perpetrated by persons who were not SIU students, but by persons from Chicago who came down to cause trouble. At the same time, the nation as a whole self-identified as more conservative. And yes, contrary to popular belief, the real world does filter its way to little Carbondale, sooner or later.

The erupting violence and growing conservative citizenry caused a shift, and the relationship among SIU, students and the people of Carbondale was, and arguably remains, out of balance.

However, marketing and making SIU a party school will not fix the enrollment problem. As government funding for higher education continues to contract, there is a greater accountability on all universities and students themselves to show prudent and productive use of tax payer supplied funds, be they loans, grants or annual approbations.

The push by the state and federal governments to increase the graduation rate and institutional GPA of universities is a reality, and the younger generation of students has not shown they can ‘balance’. There’s that word again — both the hard partying and the need for responsibility for achieving their educational goals in a timely and cost efficient way to the taxpayer.

If SIU went back to the past, enrollment would decline even further, as well as put the university’s state and federal funding and national credentials at greater risk. Besides, universities are supposed to be places where students and university leaders look forward to finding new solutions to challenges, and not revert or  revere to the past.

Enrollment decline is also about geography and changing demographics. Students are getting older. According to  the National Center for Educational Statistics, the fastest growing segment of colleges student are aged 25 and older.  Also, more students are choosing urban schools in big cities over rural schools like SIU Carbondale.

That’s partly why SIU-Edwardsville is growing by leaps and bounds while Carbondale campus enrollment declines.

Mr. Baggot’s assessment is a good first start and identifies some issues that should be looked at. But,the issue of SIU’s enrollment problem is not a lack of identity. Rather, the problem is more complex and perhaps not in the hands of SIU Administrators to entirely control. As the old saying goes: “The-times-are-a-changing.”

The best thing SIU administrators and students can do is brace for a smaller student body, restore a self of balance in the relationship with the citizens of Carbondale, and lobby the state to restore and increase funding, and drive for increased academic performance. SIUC will not blow away anytime soon. But like anything and anyone, this university will continue to change, and that’s not such a bad thing. I believe it’s called ‘growing up.’
Anthony L . Hamelin
SIU alumni from St. Louis

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