SIU fights low enrollment

College students are heading back to campus, but Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is predicting fewer students.

The school is in a 25-year enrollment decline, and it’s leaving many wondering if the school might lose its flagship status. But, SIU President Randy Dunn is putting those rumors to rest.

Master’s student Anthony Farace is no stranger to the back to school rush. He’s all moved in, but he says he’s got a few things left to do before he’ll be ready for classes to start.

"There’s a lot of books I’ve got to get ready for, books I’ve got to buy from the bookstore," said Farace. But fewer students are choosing to start classes at SIU. 

While numbers at SIU Edwardsville continue to rise, many around town worry Carbondale could lose its flagship status with the SIU system. President Randy Dunn says that perception is off base.

Historically, SIU Carbondale was probably thought of in that fashion. But we’ve now come to a point where each of the campuses has come unto its own," Dunn said. He says SIU has no flagship school in its system, but each school has its own focus and its own strengths.

However, with another drop in already low enrollments predicted for the fall semester, Dunn says they need to do more to attract more students. He says they’re looking to add new academic programming and revamp student housing.  He says SIU Carbondale is at its core a research university, and they need to rebrand and refocus the school in that direction.

Dunn says where the university may have dropped the ball a bit is in losing students in the southern Illinois area to other schools. He says the budget impasse is causing it to lose more students, but the school needs to do its share, too.

Dunn says he believes turning Carbondale in to a more research focused school will draw in students from southern Illinois and around the country.

Farace says he works with undergraduates often and he says he’s seeing a big interest from them in research.

"We have a lot of students and undergraduates who come into our department, and they’re able to do research through our department," Farace said.

Dunn says he believes those changes can breathe new life into campus and, hopefully, turn enrollment around in Carbondale for good.

Last fall, SIU Carbondale had 17,282 students, which is down from its peak enrollment of 24,869.  SIU Edwardsville reported 14,265 students last fall, the highest ever for that campus. The final enrollment numbers for fall 2016 will be released in the coming weeks. 

Classes begin for SIU students Aug. 22.

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