Editorial: Rebuilding SIU Enrollment, Part IV

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During the last few weeks, as Nightlife ran a series of editorials about SIU’s constant enrollment
Chris Wissmann

During the last few weeks, as Nightlife ran a series of editorials about SIU’s  constant enrollment faceplants, several suggestions have come this writer’s direction, albeit not in letter-to-the-editor form.

Rather than increasing tuition to make up for financial shortfalls, as the university’s Board of Trustees did the other week, one reader suggested cutting back on the campus’s highly paid administrators. Unfortunately, though that’s a great idea on general principles, it doesn’t really pencil out as a solution to the loss of state funding due to the budget deadlock.

Assuming the university could get better or equivalent deans for substantially less than what the existing ones are getting paid, for example— a highly dubious prospect, whatever anyone thinks of the current crop— there’s not a lot of savings to be had there, because, counting the graduate, law, and medicine schools, SIU only has twelve deans.

That also means that merging, say, the College of Liberal Arts with the College of Communications and Media Arts won’t result in much savings, either.

A search through the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Public University Administrator and Faculty Salary and Benefits Database reveals only about twenty SIU employees who make more than $200,000 a year— and SIU actually pays a handful of professors more than some deans and vice chancellors. Cut all of those salaries in half and the result won’t come anywhere close to approaching the $250 –million-plus that the state once appropriated to SIU.

Alas, genuine, long-term solutions aren’t so simple as either raising tuition or cutting back on administrative salaries. They will require painful, short-term sacrifices for nearly everyone at SIU and in the surrounding community.

Another reader— a respected local social worker, incidentally— suggested a new recruiting slogan for SIU: “Get high, get laid, get a degree!”

We can dream about open-minded leadership at SIU, but however more effective our reader’s catchphrase might be than the entire failed Lipman Hearne marketing campaign, it’s bound to prove a hard sell to SIU’s board and administration. But the spirit of the suggestion is in keeping with this writer’s call for SIU to dramatically improve the quality of life on campus and make it more exciting by increasing the number of student-oriented concerts, lectures, plays, and performances.

Go to the university ticket office’s website and click on SIU Special Events. The message there is, “There are no events or items on sale at this time.” So sad.

Moving forward, here’s two more suggestions from this writer:

Get acceptance or rejection letters back to applicants much more quickly. One of my nieces has applied to several graduate schools around the nation, including SIU. Other schools have already responded to her applications—one state’s flagship university already accepted her— but she’s still waiting to hear from SIU. This university cannot afford to allow her, and plenty of others, to make their decisions about where to attend long before SIU gets around to notifying applicants who gained admission.

Greatly expand recruiting efforts, especially toward international enrollment.

First, a myth to debunk.

As the baby boom ended, the number of college-aged students in Illinois looked to decline, and SIU enrollment along with it. SIU enrollment did, indeed, fall, and by a lot. But U.S. Census data showed that between 1990 (near the time of SIU’s 1991 enrollment peak) and 2010, Illinois’s population between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four— those near traditional college ages— steadily rose. Thus, the end of the baby boom, or a decline in the number of high-school students, proved poor excuses for SIU’s drop in student headcount.

That, however, started changing in 2011, when the number of Illinoisans ages fifteen to twenty-four began to dip. Illinois’s overall population has also fallen for three years in a row, a trend that demographers interviewed in a Chicago Tribune article expect to continue.

The National Center for Education Statistics, however, projects nationwide college enrollment to increase by fourteen percent between 2014 and 2025. The solution must adopt: Go fish in different ponds, ones with growing populations.

SIU has tried to do so by granting in-state tuition to students from neighboring states, but this hasn’t proven enough to reverse the plummet of overall enrollment. A genuinely welcome development, then, came from the SIU Board of Trustees earlier this month. While at their regular meeting the trustees stupidly voted to raise tuition, they should get credit for moving to make the in-state tuition rate applicable to all new and continuing domestic undergraduate students starting this fall.

The board ought to expand that thinking by extending the same courtesy to international and out-of-state graduate students, who generally pay 2.5 times SIU’s in-state rate.

Graduate enrollment has especially suffered here, and most other public Illinois universities share SIU’s pain. A popular theory for why: The loss of state-university funding is driving Illinois’s grad students to states where budget passage is more, or at all, likely. Dropping SIU’s sticker price to the in-state rate may help reverse that outflow.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal report, “How International Students Are Changing U.S. Colleges,” asserts that the international-student population in America— primarily from China, India, and Saudi Arabia— has reached an all-time high, and it’s rapidly increasing. (Of course, that was written before the Trump administration, which could invert those numbers.)

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, unsurprisingly, has the fifth-largest international enrollment in the nation at 11,223. Internationals there have gone from two to fifteen percent of the total student body between 2000 and 2014. Illinois Wesleyan University and the Illinois Institute of Technology have also seen significant growth in international enrollment.

Once upon a time, SIU had one of the ten largest international enrollments in the nation. In 1992, however, four international students and one from Chicago died in an arsonist’s fire at the old Pyramid Apartments, and authorities never caught the perpetrator. A year later, international enrollment peaked at 2,185. Then, in 1997, the Asian Financial Crisis struck.

SIU’s international enrollment never fully recovered from those disasters. Nevertheless, starting in 2006, it did begin to tick back upward. And while it backslid the last two years— in large part, university officials say, because the Brazilian Science Mobility Program sent fewer of that country’s students here— people from more than one-hundred nations still attend Southern.

This school, then, retains an international reputation on which it must further capitalize by shifting some recruiting resources overseas. SIU’s trustees would help even more by dropping international-students’ tuition rates to the in-state level.

 

Feel free to send additional, sincere suggestions to <mailto:nightlif@midwest.net>, and we might just publish them!