Editorial: SIU’s Low, Low College Scorecard Grade Point Average and A Shift in the Balance of Power at SIU?

At the behest of U.S. president Barack Obama, the White House’s College Affordability and Transparen
Chris Wissmann


At the behest of U.S. president Barack Obama, the White House’s College Affordability and Transparency Center recently launched a College Scorecard. Accuracy might be an issue there-- the huge disparity in tuition and fees at two University of Illinois campuses is difficult to believe, for example-- and so is timeliness, as the most recent data comes from 2009. Nevertheless, information on the site helps to illustrate why enrollment at Southern Illinois University continues to plummet while revealing additional challenges inside the deeply troubled Saluki Nation.

First off, the percentage of full-time students who earned bachelor degrees in six years at SIU is the second-lowest among public four-year universities in Illinois. Only 44.5 percent of SIU students managed to graduate in six years. At least competition for the bottom wasn’t close: Chicago State, at twenty-one percent, stunk up Illinois’s higher-education system in this measure. But the third-worst graduation rate in Illinois, at the Edwardsville campus, still did 7.4 percent better than the Carbondale campus. The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, at 82.5 percent, nearly doubled SIU’s graduation rate.

This seems to indicate numerous problems-- test scores or class ranking be damned, almost half of the people SIU admits lack the academic skills needed to succeed at the university, or they cannot overcome family, financial, or other pressures that prevent them from finishing degrees, at least in timely manners.

Second, SIU’s transfer rate, 43.7 percent, is the highest of any public Illinois university that reported this statistic to the College Affordability and Transparency Center, and by a huge amount. The next-highest transfer rate, Western Illinois’s, is only at 34.5 percent. The lowest transfer rate, Illinois State’s, sits at 11.5 percent, and that school’s graduation rate hits seventy-one percent-- two statistics that, when taken together, seem to indicate a high level of student satisfaction.

SIU’s huge transfer rate, on the other hand, when coupled with a low graduation rate, might indicate some of the worst customer service in Illinois-- in other words, students leave because they don’t feel welcome or appreciated.

And no wonder: SIU is gouging students. Only at the Edwardsville campus have net costs grown more quickly among Illinois’s public four-year universities. At Edwardsville, costs rose by 48.6 percent, and in Carbondale at 34.2 percent. The state average rose only by 22.6 percent. (In fact, SIU’s primary local competitor, Southeast Missouri State, actually managed to lower student costs by 10.8 percent, while another emerging regional competitor, Murray State, increased costs by significantly less than SIU, at 27.4 percent.)

A no less disturbing way to interpret SIU’s transfer rate: SIU students may be leaving the university because they aren’t learning anything useful in their programs and see better educational opportunities elsewhere.

Still, the White House reports that net costs at the Carbondale campus are among the state’s lowest. Only the University of Illinois Chicago costs less, which seems counterintuitive, though the White House definition of net price comes into play: “[W]hat undergraduate students pay after grants and scholarships (financial aid you don’t have to pay back) are subtracted from the institution’s cost of attendance.” In other words, a school like the University of Illinois Chicago, with a large endowment for financial aid, can considerably bring down the list price for tuition and fees. Or many University of Illinois Chicago students live at home and commute to school, eliminating the need to pay for room and board.

So yes, SIU’s estimated net price of $13,399 a year falls beneath the state average of $14,021-- but it’s still quite a bit higher than the rapidly growing SEMO’s $9,986 or Murray State’s even smaller $9,381. Both of those schools boast higher six-year graduation rates, SEMO at 46.3 percent and Murray at 52.4 percent.

And at the same time, for only $15,562-- $1,541 more-- prospective students can attend the state’s flagship university at Urbana Champaign and get the most prestigious education an Illinois public university can provide.

Consider all those numbers in the context of fall 2012 and spring 2013, when SIU saw the sharpest enrollment collapses in twenty-some years of extremely depressing enrollment freefall, and even cynics must wonder whether they could possibly exaggerate the scope of the crisis faced by SIU. Optimists, meanwhile, must finally see the grave SIU has dug itself, and start demanding immediate changes to keep the sexton from completing the interment.

Now, as Nightlife prepares to go to press, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that he will replace all of the SIU trustees whose terms had expired. Sandra Cook of Collinsville, Melvin Terrell of Chicago, and Lee Milnerof Springfield, all alumni of SIU’s Carbondale campus for at least one degree apiece, will replace the SIU Board of Trustees’ three officers, chairman John Simmons, vice-chairman Ed Hightower, and secretary Mark Hinrichs.

SIU system president Glenn Poshard could always count on a majority of the trustees for support. Quinn’s appointments, however, might have signaled a significant shift in the balance of power on what has been a board with contentious divisions— a change that didn’t look good for Poshard.

But Poshard, a former state legislator and U.S. congressman, may have outmaneuvered the governor. Cook, Terrell, and Milnerof were all subject to Illinois senate confirmation, and late Wednesday the Associated Press reported that the state’s upper legislative body unanimously rejected all three of Quinn’s appointees.