Chancellor addresses image issues

By Lauren Duncan

Chancellor Rita Cheng said misconceptions about the university are hindering recruitment efforts.

In her State of the University Address Wednesday, Cheng said myths about the institution have negatively impacted SIU by affecting the university’s top priority to enhance student recruitment and enrollment. By dispelling those ideas, she said, the university may improve its image and enrollment.

“If there is no factual information out there, people will make up whatever they choose to fill the void,” she said.


Some of the most prevalent myths about the university, Cheng said, are it’s reputation, student qualifications,  expense, safety and alumni dissatisfaction.

The fictitious information surrounding SIU’s reputation are based on prospective students’ responses on how they perceive the university, Cheng said. She said interviews with current and prospective students show the party school reputation remains strong.

She also said some students stated they think the university has a bad reputation, while others claimed the curriculum was laid-back.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth, but that myth is out there,” she said.

Another myth, Cheng said, is that SIU admits unqualified students. She said the university’s average ACT score is higher than the state average.

The idea that SIU is too expensive is also untrue, Cheng said. She said tuition and fees are the lowest among the five public research universities in Illinois.

The chancellor credited a common misperception of the university being unsafe as another leading factor for the lack of success with recruitment and retention.


She said SIU’s crime statistics are similar to averages for similar-sized universities of across the country.

She said initiatives have been made in the past year to improve the campus’ safety, from training 1,200 university staff members to be campus security authorities to forming a committee to suggest recommendations on how to improve campus safety.

The final myth that Cheng said is hindering the university’s efforts is the idea that many alumni are dissatisfied with the university. She said a survey by the SIU Alumni Association showed 89 percent of alumni would choose the university again, and 95 percent would recommend it to prospective students.

Cheng said the university’s top goal is recruitment and enrollment. Tuesday’s release of enrollment numbers from the university showed a 970-student decline from fall 2011.

“No surprises here,” she said. “We anticipated that based on the smaller junior and senior classes that reflect past enrollment decline, and the dramatic drop in transfers.”

Some good news Cheng shared with the filled Student Center ballroom was that the university’s budget is fiscally sound. However, there will have to be adjustments made to the budget because of the enrollment decline, she said.

“This is where we stand,” she said. “This fall’s lower overall enrollment created a projected decrease in tuition revenue of $3.8 million, effectively eliminating the gain we might have experienced from the tuition increase approved for this year.”

She said departments and fee-funded areas will have to adjust their budgets to accommodate the reduced revenues. Adjustments will also have to be made within academic units because of the enrollment decline, she said.

Cheng listed some of the factors that will impact the budget: a 1 percent salary increase that went into effect Jan. 1, regular faculty promotions, a 1 percent salary increase for Board of Trustees members, salary increases for the School of Medicine, the allocation of $750,000 to increase financial aid to students, and a reduction of $2.5 million in regular state appropriations.

“These are the budget issues we know or anticipate, and we continue to look for new revenues,” she said.