Montemagno: ‘18,300 by 2025,’ SIUC sees nearly 12 percent enrollment drop during Fall 2018 semester

By Brian Munoz, Staff Reporter

Fall enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has decreased by nearly 12 percent from the fall 2017 semester, according to university officials.

The campus reached peak enrollment in 1991 with 24,869 students, but enrollment has been decreasing ever since.

This year, the university’s total student enrollment has hit a new low of 12,817 students, surpassing the low set by previous year’s campus fall enrollment of 14,554.

The largest decrease was in the freshman class, which has 410 fewer students than in 2017 — a 23.86 percent drop.  The sophomore class saw 232 fewer students, a 12.7 percent drop, and the junior class went down by 395 students, a 15.48 percent lower from 2016.

Total undergraduate enrollment faced a 13.30 percent decline, with 1,449 fewer students than in fall 2017. Total graduate enrollment faced an 8.39 percent decline with 248 fewer students over last fall.

The university enrolled 1,133 new, first-time undergraduates and 1,261 new undergraduate transfer students, according to data released by the university.

Total on-campus enrollment for the university declined by 13.78 percent — 1,710 students. Off-campus enrollment declined by roughly 1 percent, a 27 student loss. There are 10,698 students enrolled on campus during the fall 2018 semester, compared to 12,408 during the fall 2017 semester, according to university officials. There are 2,119 students enrolled off-campus this semester compared to 2,146 during the fall 2017 semester.

Every class across the board saw declines in student enrollment but SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said the decline was anticipated while the university goes through changes intended to drive enrollment to 18,300 by 2025.

“We knew that this year would be challenging, since many students are already seriously considering colleges in their junior year, and the recruitment season was well underway when we embarked on our transformation,” Montemagno said in a university press release. “Our focus last year was on increasing the quality of new students, retention and positioning ourselves for the future.

Despite the decline in enrollment, the freshman class saw an increase of more than .8 percent over 2017 ACT scores – the highest in 20 years.

“Our average ACT score is above both national and state averages and places SIU student scores among the top 26 percent nationally,” Montemagno said. “That’s a jump of 10 percentage points from just a year ago.”

Comparatively, the Edwardsville campus’ enrollment has declined 3.7 percent from the fall 2017 semester, losing 515 students – with a total overall enrollment of 13,281, according to Doug Mcllhaga, SIUE Director of Marketing and Communications.  

There were 13,796 students at the Edwardsville campus during the fall 2017 semester, according to the university’s factbook. 

SIUE enrolled 1,706 new, first-time undergraduates and 1,240 transfer students, according to data released by university officials. 

SIU Edwardsville was found to be the fastest growing Illinois public university from 1996-2017, according to data released by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The Edwardsville campus saw an increase of 23.7 percent over the twenty-one-year data set — an increase of 2,645 students.

Carbondale saw a 32.6 percent decrease in student enrollment from 1996-2017 — a decline of 7,309 students.

Carbondale vs Edwardsville Enrollment. Data provided by Illinois Board of Higher Education, SIU System. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

The largest decline on the Carbondale campus was between fall 2016 and fall 2017 where the university lost 1,433 students, according to data provided by the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the SIU System.

The next highest student loss year was between fall 2015 and fall 2016 where the school lost 1,305 students, according to data provided by the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the SIU System.

The largest drops in enrollment at the Carbondale campus occurred at the same time as the Illinois State Budget Crisis, where public universities failed to see funding from the state for a little over two years.

During the budget stalemate, then-President Randy J. Dunn approved an inter-campus loan up to $35 million from the Edwardsville campus to the Carbondale campus in May 2017.

The loan sparked the conversation proposing a shift of $5.125 million from the Carbondale campus to the Edwardsville campus last March — proponents of the measure citing that Edwardsville would soon surpass Carbondale in enrollment.

The item failed to pass through the SIU Board of Trustees and ultimately led to Dunn’s removal.

The board is now set to pick a consultant during next week’s meeting to assess the funding model between the universities.

Decline in enrollment isn’t unique to SIU — Illinois has the largest net loss in students attending public universities, according to a report by the New York Times.

2,117 students came to Illinois for public college and 16,461 residents left Illinois to attend college in other states due to rising tuition and declining financial aid from the state, according to the Times.

Montemagno said there are multiple efforts in making Southern a more appealing option for prospective students.

“Freshman retention rates are also up to 71.08 percent, up 3.18 percent over last year and, again, the highest in recent years,” Montemagno said.

Montemagno said there are multiple efforts in making Southern a more appealing option for prospective students through initiatives taken by the university such as an academic reorganization and review of curriculum, updating recruitment materials, centralizing academic advising, adding housing scholarships and improving student life.

In addition to improvements in processes, academics and student life, Jennifer DeHaemers, associate chancellor for enrollment management, has taken the helm in tackling SIU’s enrollment decline alongside the administration.

DeHaemers’s selection was announced April 23 after what SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno called an exhaustive five-month-long search to fill a position vacant since 2014. She is the first full time hire into the position since 2011.

DeHaemers said in her role, she’s looking at ways to improve recruitment and retention, during an interview with WSIU’s Jennifer Fuller.

“When you’re talking about making improvements in enrollment, it’s going to take everyone to make that happen,” DeHaemers said during the interview.  “It’s listening to people and trying to figure out where the university wants to go… and building a plan from that point on using that information — you have do a little bit of listening.”

In an effort to bring students to the campus, the university is also hosting  “SIU Day” on Sept. 19 where they’ve invited high schools within an hour drive of the university to visit the campus and “really experience SIU in a way that they haven’t.”

Montemagno said there will be enrollment challenges as the larger classes from earlier years graduate and the smaller recent classes move through the system.

“If we continue on course, it will likely be three years before we begin to see a true turnaround in total enrollment,” Montemagno said. “But as I’ve noted earlier, we need to focus on the progress we are making.”

Montemagno said the university has seen an increased registration for fall open houses and increased applications for fall 2019 when compared with the previous year. 

“Given the signs of progress and clear commitment, I remain confident that we are heading in the right direction,” Montemagno said.

Staff reporter Brian Munoz can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrianMMunoz.

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