Editorial: Dear administration, it’s time to listen to students’ ideas

By Daily Egyptian Editorial Board

The best way to boost enrollment is not a bunch of administrators sitting around in a conference room thinking up new tactics to attract students. It’s talking to students who are already here about why they were attracted to SIU and what they think will appeal to prospective students. 

That’s something SIU has been struggling with for a long time. 

Interim chancellor John Dunn seems to have the right idea.

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“It’s not about the institutions, it’s about the students,” Dunn said at a press conference on Sept. 4. “We need to go back to our basic roots. No one is too important or too big not to have time to interact with students.”

Too bad the rest of the administration seems to disagree. 

They hide away in their offices unless there’s a sports event or something else requiring them to be present. If they would just take the time to come out and listen to what students have to say, they’d find students have a whole host of ideas.

We, as SIU students, don’t want to see the university fail. We want to be able to come back at homecoming and for our reunions, just like the students from the 80s and 90s. We want to be able to reminisce about our college days, just like the students of the 50s and 60s. 

We don’t want to return to Carbondale 10, 20 or 30 years later and see campus as nothing but a ghost town. And we’re willing to help stop that from happening, but in order for us to do so, we need administration to be willing to work with us and listen to us.

Get input from students

SIU is full of bright young people who not only have innovative ideas, but the drive to help SIU succeed. 

Why not partner with some of the leadership RSOs and student government organizations for roundtable discussions? It gives students a chance to voice their opinions and act in a leadership capacity and helps the university get a fresh perspective.

Why not engage the business and marketing programs in figuring out promotional strategies for SIU? The students get skills and experience that will be useful in their fields, and the university gets more innovative ideas that appeal to students now.

Why not funnel some money into funds to send more students to state/national competitions, then publicize it when they do well? The university gets publicity and displays its wide range of programs, and the students get experience and resume builders.

Those are just a few ideas SIU could use to get students involved, and guess what? They all came from one student. Imagine the ideas you could get from the other 11,694!

Tuition

SIU is not unique in its struggles to boost and maintain enrollment. Higher education in the United States as a whole is suffering.

SIU’s overall annual cost of attendance for an undergraduate is approximately $29,262, according to the university’s recommended student budget for 2018-2019.

See more: (Estimated Undergraduate Budget)

In comparison, SEMO’s out of state tuition for a whole academic year as a non-Missouri resident is approximately $23,472.

In 1991, tuition at SIU was just $1,172 a semester.

See more: (How much has Gus Bode paid for his 63 years of tuition?)

Tuition has only increased in recent years but wages and financial aid have remained relatively stagnant, and when students can’t afford to attend college, they won’t.

Where is all this money going? Students still pay for printing, books that cost hundreds of dollars and parking decals that cost upwards of $110, yet buildings still contain asbestos, the food at Lentz isn’t worth the money we spend on it and parking is nearly impossible to find.

So what’s the deal here? Does SIU hate poor people, or are administrators blind to the unaffordability of it all?

Until SIU and other universities radically transform the way students pay for school, enrollment will continue to drop.

To fix the enrollment crisis, tuition and the dozens of unspecified fees need to be lowered, university housing should not be over $10,000, financial aid should be transformed into something semi-helpful, people must be seen as more important than profits and administrators need to realize that you cannot run an educational institution the same way you run a business.

More students than ever before are food insecure and unsure of where their next meal will come from. Attending high cost universities, like SIU, causes students to choose between tuition and housing, food and textbooks or printing and laundry. 

These choices can mean the difference between the success and failure of the student. 

If you are an administrator, take a moment out of your day to walk around campus and talk with students. Ask the first several you see where they work and how they’re paying for school. This first step can be a step in the right direction.  

Most of them will name more than one job and will work more hours than the “20 hour limit” the university recommends, just to get by.

Administrators, if you insist on treating SIU as a business, at least know your market. The kids with high scores on their ACTs, the upper-middle class kids and most people in general will not choose SIU unless there is some price advantage. Those who can afford to pay the tuition out of pocket would much rather attend private or big city schools.

Before SIU raises tuition again to compensate for the dip in enrollment, it needs to learn how to use the money it already has. Instead of paying administrators salaries of $100,000+ and paying millions for a mediocre sports team, we must work to create new scholarships and tuition waivers.

See more: (SIU athletics running on cumulative deficit over $26 million)

Cutting Interim positions

It is time to start hiring some of these interims, please.

How can we expect SIU to be a permanent fixture of southern Illinois when seemingly everyone who works here is a temp?

The title interim allows administrators to have one foot inside the door and one out, all while receiving an attractive salary and benefit package. This has to stop, and we need to permanently hire individuals who are invested in the success of the university.

Oh, and administrators, you could at least pretend to like students and faculty. After all, we do pay you pretty well. 😉

See more: (With over 40 interim positions in administration, SIUC still can’t hire from outside the university to fill them)

Repairing facilities 

Cost aside, what can we do to ensure more students will want to attend SIU?

One step would be repairing facilities and closing the maintenance deficit so our school doesn’t appear in a mesothelioma commercial someday.

Let’s use the money from Pritzker to update these old buildings and get more upgrades for students to use and gain experience or knowledge that they came here for in the first place. 

Pritzker signed a capital bill on June 5 that would give 5% extra of the budget to reinvest in higher education. According to John Charles, Executive Director for Government and Public Affairs, SIU will get $140 million in renovation construction divided amongst different departments.

See more: (New capital bill to provide upgrades to SIU)

Upgrading these buildings will help to invest in the future of SIU, and could help be a part of the solution to this enrollment crisis. 

Recruitment

SIU needs to work harder at reaching out to potential students to grab their attention before someone else does. 

We need to show up and show the communities near us and throughout Illinois that we are here. 

It is time to invest in more high school recruiting teams and to reach out to more areas than we have before.

Local high school kids definitely know about SIU, but the only visits they get are from sports recruiters.

The military does a much better job than this school ever has. Four or five visits from army recruiters, but none from a local university is kind of awful.

Why aren’t we recruiting in Springfield? We can continue with recruiters in Chicago and St. Louis, but the reality is we need more. Putting recruiters in Springfield will cover more areas, some that Chicago and St. Louis just can’t hit. By adding recruiters in this area, SIU can spread its name across the state more than it has in the past. Something that is crucial to the success of this institution. 

It’s an Illinois issue

The enrollment crisis is more than just an SIU problem, it’s an Illinois issue.

“Many parents have given up on their public universities in this state, and we’ve got to get that back,” Dunn said at a press conference on Sept. 4. 

SIU should not be asking parents and alumni for handouts and donations. Instead, it needs to learn how to budget and manage its money more efficiently and effectively.

Illinois, as a whole, is essentially forcing potential students to find their home away from home elsewhere. SIU is no exception. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois State, Eastern and SIU Edwardsville increased enrollment while Western and SIU Carbondale decreased. 

Western Illinois University’s total fall 2019 enrollment is 7,624 [Macomb: 6,432; Quad Cities: 1,192], according to WIU’s Institutional Research and Planning 10-day data.

This is a decrease from their previous years.

According to Eastern Illinois University’s 10-day enrollment report, Eastern had “a total headcount increase of 3.7%, from 7,526 in fall 2018 to 7,806 in fall 2019.” 

Our sister school, SIU Edwardsville, saw an increase in their fall 2019 enrollment from 13,061 to 13,281, according to the university’s news site.

Although retention is steadily increasing at SIU, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

According to a press release on Sept. 4 discussing the 2019 enrollment numbers for SIU, freshman to sophomore retention has increased from 71% last year to 75% this year.

“The picture for first-time students and graduate students is significantly improved over the last two years,” Dunn said, “signalling that we are gaining traction and moving in the right direction.”

See more: (A smaller dip in enrollment could show SIU heading in the right direction)

The best way to solve this issue and help SIU genuinely thrive again is working with Illinois and not against it. It’s fairly simple. Working with the state to encourage potential students to stay in Illinois to get their degree is a must that SIU needs to consider and consider fast. Otherwise, SIU will continue to see enrollment numbers fall.

Culture

More students came to SIU when it was a party school. Maybe embracing that culture again can help improve enrollment. 

Administrators should also be kinder and more respectful towards the faculty that work so hard to make this school a better place.

We had some amazing Saluki Success teachers last year who were truly invested in students on this campus and who made the transition to SIU easier on all of the freshman and transfer students who attended. Yet the administration fired them.

See more: (Administration looks to move forward with changes to Saluki Success program despite campus pushback)

Our amazing faculty is one of the only virtues this school has left. It would be stupid to drive them away with a culture of fear, politics and an unhealthy university reorganization plan.

See more: (‘This is about power’ Faculty Association discusses academic reorganization)

Instead of slowly and silently trying to kill off Africana studies and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies programs, we should invest in them and celebrate the diversity they bring to our campus.

“If you have an almost all white power structure, you do not have diversity,” Dr. Joseph Brown, professor of Africana studies, said. “You sure as hell don’t have integration. So what are we doing to educate ourselves so we can be more humble and asking questions, and sincere in accepting the answers, and then going to school.”

See more: (SIU discussion focuses on diversity at SIU, in the community)

SIU is unique

SIU needs to emphasize what’s unique about this university instead of focusing on fitting in with other universities.

SIU, right now, is like a middle schooler trying to fit in with its more popular peers. University A has an engineering program? So do we! University B has an agriculture program? So do we! 

It’s time to graduate from eighth grade and enter that high school phase of individuality. SIU has a lot of unique, specialized programs but never advertises them. In many cases, these programs have low enrollment and receive less funding and resources than the more heavily advertised programs.

SIU is one of the only Illinois public universities offering metalsmithing, a fashion design specialization, and animal science including equine sciences. 

SIU is also the only Illinois public university offering aviation, automotive technology, cinematography/film studies as a major, fermentation science, mortuary sciences and funeral services and forestry. 

Students come to SIU specifically for these programs, and more would come if they knew about them. So, why doesn’t SIU advertise them?

SIU has become home to many past and present students, faculty and staff. It would be devastating to see the administration take this university down because they fail to walk outside their offices and talk to the students who actually attend classes and school functions and possibly pay the expensive price to have a roof over their head. 

SIU is beautiful in many ways, but it’s starting to become dysfunctional and ugly as the years pass. SIU needs to come together and solve its issues with solution-based answers rather than discouraging growth. 

So, that’s the tea, SIU. It’s up to you to fix these issues or let the school rot away.

The Daily Egyptian Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @dailyegyptian.

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