Editorial: SIU Enrollment Springs Toward Disaster. Again.
The schools that did worse— Chicago State and Eastern Illinois— did a lot worse in terms of percentage losses. As usual, however, SIU’s Carbondale campus posted one of the largest enrollment declines compared to the other public universities surveyed by Nightlife, both in terms of percentage and headcount.
And once again, SIU officials tried to polish the turd. SIU lost 1,170 students between spring 2016 and spring 2017. In a January 31 press release that presented the latest enrollment lipskid, Carbondale-campus chancellor Brad Colwell said, “This means that we held our ground.”
In fairness, Colwell was talking about how adjacent fall and spring semesters tend to track with one another. And the historic, devastating, almost 7.6 percent decline from fall 2015 to fall 2016 was pretty proportionate to the 7.4 percent decline this spring from last.
It is further worth noting that between adjacent fall and spring semesters from 2011 to 2017, SIU’s enrollment fell at a pretty reliable rate of between about seven and nine percent. (The outlier was fall 2013 and spring 2014, when the decline betwixt them dipped to about 4.7 percent.) From last semester to this one, SIU lost about 8.5 percent of its student body.
Still, there’s no context in which a loss of 1,170 students— 7.4 percent of the student body— constitutes holding one’s ground. It is consistency of failure, and that’s not the same thing. Furthermore, when SIU loses so damned many students from fall to fall, the spring decreases compound the effects.
Declining enrollment, for example, means fewer students pay tuition and fees. This, of course, has caused SIU to leave many faculty and professional positions unfilled.
In addition, Nightlife has repeatedly mentioned how this has hurt the Student Activity Fee and all of the events it was designed to fund— concerts, lectures, plays, and performances that used to proliferate on this campus and now end up at regional rivals like Southeast Missouri State.
Well, declining enrollment means fewer students pay into the athletic fund, too— and it’s gotten bad enough that even Saluki Athletics isn’t getting bailed out anymore. Citing, among other things, declines in revenue from student athletic fees, on January 26 SIU announced the elimination of men’s and women’s tennis teams.
In any event, the January 31 press release goes on to state that 1,383 students were scheduled to graduate in December, “which correlates closely with the 1,351 difference between the fall 2016 enrollment of 15,987 and spring enrollment of 14,636.”
If so, then it’s numerically possible to make the argument that all of the students SIU lost from the fall it did so due to graduation, and new students this spring slightly more than cancelled out those who transferred, dropped out, or flunked out. That’s a genuinely good sign that may portend well for enrollment during the fall 2017 semester and beyond, as well as SIU’s ongoing efforts to improve its appalling graduation and retention rates.
The urgency to get there, however, much less a realistic plan to make it possible, seems missing. And any evidence must wait until fall 2017 to reveal itself. That is a long way off.