Daily Egyptian

Column: How to boost enrollment

By Sam Beard, Student Trustee

Why is enrollment dropping? Why do students choose to go to one university over another? What will boost enrollment?

These are some of the guiding questions that a lot of us have been grappling with over the past several weeks, months, years, decades.

However, the answers we have been afforded by the administration are inadequate a best.

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Chancellor Montemagno has said on multiple occasions that enrollment is dropping because of the quality of education offered at the institution, even going so far as to compare the value of an SIU degree to a rusted-out junker.

Other administrators have maintained it is because of the alleged unsightliness of the towers.

Still, others contend it is because we have lost our reputation as a party school. I will give them that, Carbondale is certainly not as lit as it used to be.

But all of these reasons are wholly inadequate at providing a systematic understanding of the issue at hand, and one in particular is just straight-up insulting.

Enrollment is dropping due to of the lack of honest leadership on the Carbondale campus and because the Board of Trustees keeps raising the cost of attendance.

We have become almost numb to this stark pattern of short-term chancellors wrecking-house and jumping-ship.

If one is to count President Randy Dunn when he so dutifully fulfilled the role of chancellor (while still serving as head-of-system) a couple of years ago, over the past 15 years we have had nine different chancellors.

Nine.

This has provided no cohesive vision and an extreme lack of administrative accountability at the SIU system’s flagship campus.

Well, now that we have a chancellor with a vision it is one that unfortunately bares no grasp on our institutional context.

Last Thursday at a meeting with the faculty from his proposed School of Humanities, the chancellor insisted that the skeptical professors just need to “trust” him with this whole thing.

I gotta say, that was a pretty hard pill to swallow the day after a bombshell investigation by the Daily Egyptian into Montemagno’s nepotism.

As much as I wish I could, the trust just ain’t there.

But perhaps a more significant factor in our falling enrollment figures than inept leadership is the skyrocketing cost of attendance.

A nationwide study by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a higher education enrollment management consulting firm (yes, those exist), found the number one factor for incoming freshmen in deciding where to go is cost of attendance.

Shocking, I know.

But over the past fifteen years the Board of Trustees has more than doubled the cost of attendance at SIU!

The pattern has gone something like this: the board hikes the cost, fewer students enroll as a result, to offset the lower tuition revenue the board hikes the cost again and even fewer students enroll as a result the following year.  

Repeat this process for a decade or two and you are left with a severely damaged university.

So, what do we do about this? We must drastically lower the cost of attendance.

When Bethany College of West Virginia cut its tuition in ‘02-‘03 by 42% from $20,650 to $12,000, their freshman class increased 60%.

A similar move by the board, coupled with an all-out marketing blitz along the lines of “Education is a human right, that’s why SIU offers the best schooling at the lowest possible cost” would make national news.

The influx of students would offset the drop in per-student revenue, benefitting both the university and the students (not to mention the local economy).

Satisfied students will tell all their homies back home that SIU is the place to be and then the youngsters flock.

The Towers will be maxed-out because we slashed the extraordinarily high rates down to a more reasonable level and BOOM:  SIU is a party school again.

This isn’t rocket science, people.

To conclude, it’s not just an enrollment problem, it is retention too.

Our four year graduation-rate is 25%. For black students that rate is even lower. How is this even possible?

It’s because students are reeled-in, encouraged to sign to dotted-line and then left to their own devices. Plus, the institution is not providing the type of support that underprivileged students deserve.

My problem with the reorganization of our university is not that it too drastic.

My problem is that it doesn’t go far enough.

It fails to provide solutions to any of the real issues plaguing our campus.

We need warm and caring leadership, not authoritarian impositions.

We need insightful interpretation of our rich institutional history, not made-up claims about the lack of synergy on campus.

We need groundbreaking student support structures, not just take their money and run.

We need to make education affordable again and not raise tuition every chance that we get. 

To the pro-reorganization camp that stands against business-as-usual: What is it that you understand as business-as-usual and how does this restructuring in any way, shape or form address our current sickness?

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618) 453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays and Thursdays: 12:30 pm – 2 pm or by appointment.

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7 Comments

7 Responses to “Column: How to boost enrollment”

  1. Bradley Skelcher on February 7th, 2018 1:47 pm

    I agree that SIUC is not have competitive tuition rates in comparison to surrounding out-of-state universities that offer Illinois students in-state tuition rates. In addition, SIUC is a research university and needs to continue this if for nothing else a market advantage. SIUS needs to embrace freshmen by recognizing them with first-year programs. Then, SIUC should not forget the retained sophmores and persistent juniors and seniors. Fundraising should target scholarships for them. Next, the graduate students are the backbone to research and undergraduate education. Some also teach graduate seminars. They are the next generation of academics, private sectors leaders and researchers. I have not seen any of these addressed by the Chancellor other that they are not in the future plans for his reorganization. I see SIUC becoming a vocational or technical schoo. As an alumus, I see no problem with adding these to the University. I do not want to see them replace the existing programs at SIUC. Additionally, I ask the question, are chairpersons represented by the Union. If so, by ending the academic departments and creating schools, I see this a a backdoor to eliminating chairpersons rather than negotiating them out of the Union. If this is incorrect, then I stand corrected in my analysis.

  2. Richmond B Adams, Ph.D. English 2011 on February 7th, 2018 1:49 pm

    “f one is to count President Randy Dunn when he so dutifully fulfilled the role of chancellor (while still serving as head-of-system) a couple of years ago, over the past 15 years we have had nine different chancellors.

    Nine”

    A good number of these nine (I attended between 2004 and 2010) embodied a similar void of that already amorphous term “leadership,” one even going so far, as I recall from the DE’s reporting at the time, to only occasionally showing up for work. At least one other was all but certainly hired to break up the unions, for whose continued existence one can thank House Speaker Mike Madigan. He’s certainly a complex man, but mercifully insists that work needs decent pay and benefits if its ethic is to be something more than a Puritan catch phrase. Another Chancellor served as Interim before taking the position, where apparently the rush of power morphed him into what seemed like a reactionary shrill. Of course, all of this does nothing to address the bureaucratic bloat that has overtaken higher education since the early 1970s and has transferred pay and influence to an administrative segment (or, if one will, class) that has virtually no idea what matters to students or what comprises a research institution. Dealing with that bloat and its insular language is where SIU Carbondale needs to begin, and it won’t be “fixed” with any band aids of temporary boost in enrollment.

  3. Don Cornel, Parent of SIU Student. on February 8th, 2018 8:54 am

    Mr. Beard makes several good points; however, I am not sure all are pertinent to boosting enrollment.

    “I gotta say, that was a pretty hard pill to swallow the day after a bombshell investigation by the Daily Egyptian into Montemagno’s nepotism”, wrote Mr. Beard. The article was important and while the story is disappointing, it should not be too surprising. The blame here goes to President Dunn and the Board. Mr. Montemagno can ask for anything he wants. I suppose the negative publicity of this germy political maneuvering could hurt enrollment.

    The fighting over the proposed reorganization/realignment could also hurt enrollment. From another article in the Egyptian, “In midst of the restructuring, chair of the Psychology Department Michael Hone and psychology faculty decided to focus on aspects of the reorganization they could control.“The cliche someone gives you lemons just make lemonade; we did that and we decided to pour in a lot of sugar,” Hone said.” This proposal to add two more schools appears to be a collaborative response to the discussion. This is the ‘roll up our sleeves” attitude we sorely need during this crisis.

    From the same article – “Matters of interest in the faculty’s control include contract negotiations, as the faculty union’s contract with the university ends on June 30 2018.’ This worries me. My wife and I were both on the short end of this stick back when we were students. Has someone said “Strike” yet. Poor relations between the Administration and the Faculty with current contracts ending soon. A strike mainly hurts the students, as both ends play them against the middle, pawns and cannon fodder for the warring sides. Definitely would not help enrollment.

    All that being said, the main point of Mr. Beard’s column was how to boost enrollment, and he nailed it. Cut tuition.

    Bite the bullet and cut tuition.

    i would guess enrollment could double without much strain on current overhead. Cut the tuition in half, with the goal being doubling tuition.

    Not to offend anyone, but Carbondale isn’t much more than SIU. If SIU can again thrive, Carbondale will follow. I believe homes in Carbondale are around two thirds rentals, with those rentals being more than one third vacant. i walk around campus and see the unused dorms and buildings. Look at the class schedules and see the limited number of sections available, and classes less than a third full. A beautiful campus, in the prettiest area of the state; SIU should be bursting at the seams.

    The Administration and Faculty need to work TOGETHER, and make some tough, right now, decisions, with foresight for a once again thriving, vital University, Town, and Region.

    The number one goal needs to be boosting enrollment.

    Significantly cut tuition and they will come, and the rest will follow.

  4. Rich on February 8th, 2018 9:58 am

    Sam, I normally disagree with you on just about everything you say, but I see a ton of merit in a tuition cut and marketing blitz. Illinois schools are some of the most expensive in-state schools, in the national. A tuition cut and marketing campaign would reverse that enrollment loss in one semester!

  5. Justin Carman on February 8th, 2018 10:36 am

    The cost of attendance should absolutely be reduced, ESPECIALLY when considering the quality of education that SIU offers in general. I understand that SIU is a research institution and that a significant amount of funding is obtained from it. However, I feel that there is a culture in which many Professors consider their research to be more important than the teaching of their students – and that is a huge problem.

    I believe this problem exists because some employees (calling them educators would be a stretch) see their job security directly linked to the amount of research dollars they bring to the school. This leads to less time and concentration on students and lecture material. The decline in the quality of education is noticed not only by students, but also by prospective employers. Just look at the number of companies that do no attend recruitment fairs on campus anymore.

    I would like to conclude by saying that the opinion expressed above does not extend to all SIU faculty. There are some truly great educators here, and I am fortunate that my department has one. But, the question remains: Does 20-30 hours of great instruction outweigh the 90-100 hours of sub-par teaching?

  6. Sedonia Sipes, Plant Biology Faculty on February 11th, 2018 8:03 am

    Justin Carman, your message tells me that we faculty do not do enough to communicate the true value of being a research institution. Our current struggles here at SIU are multi-faceted and complex, but being a research institution is not among the causes of our woes. Though I don’t know how things work in your program, in my department (Plant Biology) and college (Science), faculty research activity creates opportunities for undergraduates and enhances their experience, careers, and marketability. In other words, we are integrating research into teaching/mentoring. Classroom learning alone is incomplete. If you enter the job market or apply for graduate-level professional schools, people who have high GPAs but only classroom experience are a dime a dozen. Being at a research institute allows students to seek out opportunities to DO whatever it is they are studying, under the mentorship of experts. Many of these students go to present their work at professional national or regional conferences, further opening opportunities for professional networking and development. In my department, virtually all undergraduates do science in at least one faculty lab. Those opportunities are largely funded by research grants. In the past year over a dozen undergraduate students have had meaningful research experiences in my lab, most have gotten paid to do it from a research grant. These experiences enhance their career focus and competitive edge in whatever endeavor they pursue.

  7. Brian W Sloboda on February 15th, 2018 9:52 am

    The declining enrollment at SIUC started when I was as a graduate student in the 1990s, so this problem is nothing new. It was exacerbated over time by lack of leadership. Nine chancellors since I left. Also students back in the 1990s thought that tuition was high. It used to be anything over 12 credit hours, say 15 credits hours, still paid for 12 credit hours tuition and it was scrapped by 1994 (i think that is the correct year).

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