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SIU Enrollment Numbers Increase For the First Time in Nearly a Decade.

SIU Carbondale Towers, a dorm on campus
SIU Carbondale
SIU Carbondale Towers

Southern Illinois University has seen a downward trend in its enrollment numbers over the years but it is finally changing its course.

For the first time in nearly a decade, SIU has seen its overall enrollment numbers increase.

Enrollment for the fall 2023 semester is 11,359, 2.3% or 252 students, more than last year.

This is the highest boost in the number of students in 21 years and highest percentage increase in over 30 years.

This jump has helped SIU make progress towards its 2030 goal of 15,000 students.

SIU took many avenues to begin increasing their enrollment numbers.

Wendell Williams, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management at SIU, says to start their road back to growth, they needed to look at the data.

“True enrollment increases are only going to start first with data. You’ve got to know where you are and you’ve gotta know what markets you are missing. So, we have started with an intensive campaign to pull everybody together” Williams said.

This data pointed to a few issues that the college needed to address.

To come up with a plan, the college has been regularly holding meetings for the last two years consisting of multiple departments to figure out the correct steps to take.

“Every Thursday, about once or twice per month, an enrollment management committee had been put together consisting of academic advisors, consisting of recruitment and retention coordinators, deans, and leaders from around the campus to get together and talk about what were the deficits” Williams said.

Williams says one of the major areas that needed to be addressed was student retention.

He says the best way to increasing the enrollment has been keeping the students here that they already had.

To pull this off, Williams says the university has added many support systems around their freshman students to make the adjustment to college and their education a little easier.

“We have collaborated with every college and every department to begin to look at what we do for our freshman students. So, we put a first year experience program in place. That first year experience program takes that student from where they are to help them set a goal, not just to identify a major but to set a career goal because every major leads to some type of career” Williams said.

The college has not only created new resources such as the first year program, but they have focused on their resources that have existed for a while.

Williams says they have used the first year program to inform incoming students about the various resources they have available on campus.

“Then we get them connected with various resources that’s available on campus. Tutoring resources, academic support resources, mental health resources, financial aid resources, because one of the biggest reasons why students leave is because they just don’t have the financial resources to stay” Williams says.

Financial resources are not only a hurdle for students already enrolled.

Sara Jiter, the director of undergraduate admissions, says one of the main questions she is asked by students looking to go to SIU after high school is about how they are going to pay for it.

“It’s usually, ‘How am I gonna pay for school?’” Jiter said. “You know, I think that’s a big part of it and working with our financial aid office so students are getting their offers and they can see the overall tuition but then what kind of scholarships are they gonna get and what kind of grants are they gonna have so they can really see what the end bill is going to be. I think once we talk through that with students then it makes it more of a reality that they can get their four year degree.”

Williams says SIU has done a lot to remove the financial barriers for incoming and existing students.

He says through their various programs, scholarships, and grants some students with financial need can go to SIU nearly tuition free.

“We’ve put the Pell grant, the map grant, the aim high grant, where any family right now whose family income is $103,000 or less they can just about go tuition and fees free” Williams said.

While supporting students has been a major asset, SIU still needs to boost their overall applicant and enrollment numbers to utilize those support systems.

Williams says an old saying he heard from his home town in Arkansas has guided his efforts with recruiting.

“They used to always tell me to ‘Dance with the girl that brung ya.’ That may not be good English but that’s a great philosophy and great logic. About 45% to maybe even 55% of our students come from right here in Southern Illinois. We had to make sure that we have an intensive focus to make sure that the message and the intent that we want our students of Southern Illinois and we want them to enroll here and to stay here once they graduate from here” Williams said.

To bring in local students, SIU has partnered with multiple high schools and community colleges to funnel students to the university.

Jiter says the college is looking at expanding some of their autoenrollment programs to the local schools in Southern Illinois.

“So if students meet a 2.75 (GPA), if they are in the top 10% of their class then they can be reviewed for automatic admission. So, it really is letting the students know more ahead of time and sending them more information like ‘We want you’” Jiter said.

While SIU has also expanded into the international market and graduate market for potential students, Williams says Southern Illinois will always be SIU’s main focus.

To learn more about how SIU plans to continue their growth, click here.

Ethan Holder is a student contributor for WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org
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