SIU Carbondale fights historic enrollment drop
We’re down, but we’re not out: That’s how Southern Illinois University Carbondale Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell describes record low enrollment numbers for this fall.
The numbers released Tuesday afternoon show a 7.5 percent drop in students studying on the Carbondale campus. But leaders say they’re hopeful they can turn that trend around by working harder to attract students to the school.
Students are all moved in and back in class for the fall semester, but in smaller numbers than ever before. Freshman Lily Ohl says she chose Carbondale for its interior design program. Home is just a few hours north of Carbondale, but she says the school wasn’t even on her radar until the hunt for a good design program began during her senior year of high school. She says she’s glad she decided to study there, but even moving in, she says she noticed that enrollment here on campus isn’t what it used to be.
"So, it’s a little concerning,” Ohl said. “You know, like the top three floors in my building are actually shut down.”
SIU is reporting 800 fewer students walking around on campus this fall. That makes fall of 2016 Carbondale’s smallest class in recent history, but the school is already fighting to change that.
"We’ve seen it coming. We knew it was coming. It’s not a surprise to us," said Interim Chancellor of SIU Carbondale Brad Colwell. Colwell says they planned for the $6.5 million in tuition losses by tightening belts and making cuts around campus earlier in the year.
Colwell says they’re also changing how the school recruits future students. For the first time in a long time, Colwell says their admission department is fully staffed and already admitting students for fall of 2017. And admissions staff is partnering with local high schools and community colleges in new ways, hoping to attract new freshman and transfer students to come get their degree here in Carbondale.
Colwell says they’re also marketing the unique programs the campus has to offer, like its four-year dental hygiene program or its new fermentation science program. He says they’ll consider adding new programs to the school to make it more competitive with other area universities. He says if they add something, though, they need to then look at condensing other programs to stay within their smaller means.
He says despite a 25-year decline in enrollment at the Carbondale campus, he believes he and other campus leaders are now doing what it takes to turn the declines around so the school doesn’t have to lose programs that attract students like Ohl to campus.
"Yeah, I’m hoping that nothing changes before I graduate in 2020," Ohl said. She says she’s happy to study there and hopes to see more students doing the same on campus again soon.
At its peak, SIU Carbondale records show the campus had 24,869 full-time students. In fall of 2016, 15,987 students were enrolled on campus.