September 6, 2016
The decline is disappointing but not unexpected. The largest drop is in the freshman class. Our sophomore class is smaller as expected given last year’s smaller freshman class, and we continue to see a decline in graduate enrollment.
There are some bright spots. Although the numbers are not final, every indication is that our new freshman class will have the highest average ACT score in recent history. Our junior and senior classes are somewhat larger, suggesting good retention. And we continue to attract international students from more than 100 countries, although total international enrollment is down.
It would be a mistake to attribute our decline to any single factor. Certainly, turnover and vacancies in the admissions office have affected the enrollment of new students. Under the new leadership of interim admissions director Terri Harfst, the admissions office is now fully staffed and has an outreach strategy that includes visiting every high school and community college in the state as well as beyond. This strategy will incorporate our colleges and other units.
Trends in declining graduate enrollment were exacerbated by our need to reduce the number of assistantships due to the state budget impasse. The impasse has also discouraged some prospective students from outside the state to come to Illinois, and we fear it has driven some Illinois students to other states in spite of our reassurances that SIU will be here to stay.
We cannot, however, blame our challenges solely on resources. We must also look inward at what we need to do collaboratively to make sure SIU is attractive to future students and continues to retain those we enroll.
Most importantly, we need to make sure we are offering the right mix of strong programs. To do this, we need to eliminate those that are not attracting students, along the lines of a forthcoming review by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, in order to create resources for those in greater demand. We must take immediate steps to prioritize programs starting with the work of the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council program prioritization task force and taken forward under the leadership of our deans.
We must also evaluate every aspect of the student experience to identify where we can make improvements, and we must tell our great story proudly to everyone we meet. We are conducting market research this fall to help guide us.
As an aside, we incorporated the anticipated decline into our budget planning for the year and our $21 million reduction, so enrollment itself will not be a factor in further budget challenges this year. However, the state budget impasse continues to cause significant stress on our finances that will require additional attention that President Dunn will address tomorrow in his regular column.
Even as we face financial uncertainty, we must take control now of those things within our reach: student recruitment and retention, academic programs and the student experience. I will discuss these and other areas during my Sept. 21 State of the University address at 10:30 a.m. in the Student Center Ballrooms.
Meanwhile, I ask every member of our campus and community to ensure that we live up to our reputation as a caring campus that delivers a quality education in a beautiful setting. Whether you are on the front lines or behind the scenes serving students, creating meaningful learning experiences in classrooms and laboratories, recruiting new and transfer students, or making sure our campus safe, operational and attractive, you have a critical role to play.
I thank you for all you do and look forward to the year ahead.