SIUC undergrad enrollment drops below 10,000

Overall enrollment falls 12 percent, 13.3 percent for undergrads, as Edwardsville campus passes Carbondale

 Pulliam Hall at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus. (Wikimedia Commons/Veeresh Dandur)

Pulliam Hall at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus. (Wikimedia Commons/Veeresh Dandur)

By Ted Cox

Undergraduate enrollment at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus has dropped below 10,000.

According to the "fall enrollment snapshot" released by the university Tuesday, undergraduate enrollment fell from 10,896 last year to 9,447 this year, a loss of 1,449 undergrads or a 13.3 percent decline.

Overall enrollment dropped from 14,554 to 12,817, a 12 percent decline. Every class year for undergrads saw declines, as well as graduate students and those in law and medicine. Only "unclassified" students increased, from 91 to 105.

Chancellor Carlo Montemagno emphasized in a formal statement, however, that SIUC was seeing the quality of its students improve and that quantity would follow.

Pointing out that the entering students' average ACT score actually rose this year to 23.65, Montemagno said, "We have undertaken a planned, coordinated effort to attract and enroll students who can be successful at SIU Carbondale. 

“We are attracting strong students who are coming for the high quality of our academic programs and the strength of our faculty,” he added. “We are in a rebuilding year. Strong students will attract strong students. This new class, plus an increase in freshman retention rates, are positive signals as we work to raise the profile of SIU and grow future enrollment."

Montemagno set a goal of returning to an enrollment of 18,000 by 2025.

He undertook a streamlining of campus curricula and operations last school year, and this spring SIU President Randy Dunn touted the university as a regional job creator. But Dunn was soon enmeshed in controversy over backroom attempts to swing $5 million in SIU funding from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville, and he was removed from office this summer, shifted to a teaching position at Edwardsville. That didn't improve the dark clouds that have been hanging over the university.

"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,” said Montemagno, who took the chancellor's position a year ago. “Our focus last year was on increasing the quality of new students, retention and positioning ourselves for the future. 

“We anticipate that we will see enrollment begin to turn around with next year’s freshman class,” he added. “Enrollment growth takes time, but we have the plans in place going forward."

We knew that this year would be challenging. ... Our focus last year was on increasing the quality of new students, retention, and positioning ourselves for the future. We anticipate that we will see enrollment begin to turn around with next year’s freshman class.
— SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno

SIUC enrollment peaked in 1991 at almost 25,000, or almost double this fall's enrollment. But it was then overwhelmingly male, with 15,000 men to 10,000 women, and with a well-deserved reputation as a party school.

According to this fall's enrollment figures, SIUC is now 53 percent male, 47 percent female, 28 percent minority students, and 8 percent international.

"We are very proud of the diversity of our campus and the quality of our students,” Montemagno said.

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry has sought to stop the bleeding in campus enrollment in part by reviving a Halloween festival this fall. The university clamped down on the festival — and on its party-hearty reputation — after it routinely got out of hand year after year.

After SIU's Edwardsville campus graduated its two largest classes the last two years, peaking with 2,617 graduates this spring, it reported that total enrollment dropped 515 students this fall, or 3.7 percent, to 13,281. It nonetheless passed Carbondale as the larger campus, although its average ACT score for incoming students was slightly lower at 23.3.

"We knew it would be challenging to replace those classes,” said SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook in a statement. “Initial data for next year’s class indicates the prospect pool is up at this point from a year ago, and we have initiatives in place to enhance enrollment growth in the future."

Enrollment figures for the University of Illinois System and other state colleges are expected later this month.

Ted Cox