Recently, I shared the many strategies we are implementing to recruit new students, from more on-the-ground outreach to use of innovative technology tools.
We are doing as much in retention, as well, including enhanced academic advisement; implementation of an early warning system to identify students who may be struggling; hands-on learning experiences through research, creative activities, internships and service learning; connecting students with their academic homes earlier; and the new First Saluki program for first-generation students.
Today, we are beginning to see some of these strategies pay off as we begin the lengthy process of turning enrollment around.
Our official fall 2019 enrollment is 11,695, down 8.75 percent. You may be wondering why a decline might be considered positive, but there are a lot of details underneath the overall total that signal a change in direction.
Let’s start with retention. Our freshman to sophomore retention rate, reflecting the percentage of last year’s first-time freshmen who returned this fall, is 75 percent. Consider that it was 71 percent last year and 67 percent the year before. This is news to celebrate, as retention is as critical to our enrollment as recruitment.
New freshmen and transfers
Looking at the freshman class, our average ACT score has risen to 24.30, up from last year’s more than 20-year record of 23.65. We are continuing to attract strong students who will find success at SIU. At the same time, we continue to weigh every applicant’s potential carefully as we know that grades and test scores don’t tell the full story.
The number of transfer students was relatively flat at 1,268, increasing by 7 students – or less than 1 percent. This is the result of outstanding efforts to connect with our community college partners and identify pathways for our transfer students.
And while the number of first-time students has declined fewer than 100 students to 1,037, or 8.47 percent, this follows decreases of 24 and 20 percent the previous two years. New programs in nursing, business analytics and other areas will help close this gap in the future. We are heading in the right direction.
Graduate enrollment is also relatively flat at 2,683, down 26 students or just under 1 percent. Last year it was down 8.29 percent.
International enrollment is down 13.9 percent, which is not unexpected given policy changes both in the United States and abroad. While some of this is out of our control, we are working diligently on international recruitment.
While helping out at the SIU tent at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, I had the opportunity to talk with a visitor: Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. He offered some wisdom on the challenges of turning around the state, noting that it’s a lot faster to go downhill than it is to climb back up.
This is true for SIU Carbondale, as well. I note that we had predicted this enrollment decline not only because we had a large graduating class last spring followed by the smaller classes that are still in the pipeline, but also because it will take time to change strategies and perceptions, some of which are tied to the state budget impasse.
Every one of us has a part to play, whether you are in the classroom, maintaining our facilities and beautiful campus, supporting students as they make decisions about classes or campus life, or helping tell our positive story within the larger community. Every single interaction you have with a current or prospective student has the potential to make a difference. Remember my motto: “It’s personal.”
We are running a marathon, and I am confident that we will cross the finish line with time, diligence and patience. As I noted in last week’s blog post on the budget, we have momentum.
Thank you for getting us where we are today. Let’s keep going.