Official enrollment figures for fall 2018 are in. Despite an anticipated decline, there is some very good news in the numbers.
For example, the average ACT scores of our first-time students saw an increase to 23.65 this year, compared to 22.82 last year. This is in part due to our efforts to tighten our admissions standards to make sure that those students who enroll can be successful here.
This is an increase of more than .8 percent over the previous year and the highest in at least 20 years. Our average ACT score is above both national and state averages and places SIU student scores among the top 26 percent nationally. That’s a jump of 10 percentage points from just a year ago.
Freshman retention rates are also up to 71.08 percent, up 3.18 percent over last year and, again, the highest in recent years. This means that many of the steps we took last year are already having an impact.
Here’s a little additional information about this year’s total student body: This year’s student body is 53 percent male and 47 percent female. In line with the past few years, nearly 28 percent are minority, and more than 8 percent are international.
A long-term effort
The enrollment figures were higher than we had originally projected thanks in no small part to the work of our faculty and staff and funds from the SIU Foundation and Alumni Association that helped close financial gaps for new and returning students. We especially exceeded our initial estimates for new, first-time students.
We took a lot of steps this year to address our enrollment challenges knowing that the greatest impact will be next year and in the future. This is because the recruitment cycle for fall of 2018 was already well underway when we got started on our transformation. Universities are always working 18 months or more ahead to get materials and strategies in place.
In fact, we did a lot in spite of being behind the curve. For example, we:
- Expanded the number of students we recruited.
- Streamlined the admissions application and acceptance process.
- Conducted college-level calling campaigns.
- Closed financial gaps for new and returning students with help from the SIU Foundation and the SIU Alumni Association.
- Brought more students to campus through new initiatives.
- Added housing scholarships and grants for new and returning students.
- Expanded and increased our targeting through digital recruiting methods.
But we know that it will be a long-term process to meet our goal of growing enrollment to 18,300 by 2025.
Many of the things we started this year look forward to fall 2019 and beyond. For example, we:
- Hired a new enrollment management leader who is bringing the many pieces of enrollment strategy across campus together.
- Began an academic reorganization that will make it easier for students to find the programs they are looking for and create resources we can invest to grow or add high-demand programs.
- Began a review of our core curriculum to ensure that all students graduate with the communication skills and cultural competencies they need to be successful after graduation.
- Completely revamped our recruitment materials and messages to reflect more energy, focus more on what makes us distinctive and more on the total college experience.
- Began earlier outreach to all high school students, even freshmen, because the college search is beginning earlier than ever.
- Focused on retention by centralizing academic advising, improving orientation, updating the student fee structure, enhancing career services and more.
- Explored and are implementing enhancements to the student experience through concerts, a makerspace, e-sports and more.
We will also soon be increasing our investments in student recruitment marketing and diving deeper into retention – a core but often overlooked factor in enrollment.
Even as we look to 2019, we know that there will be enrollment challenges as the larger classes from earlier years graduate and the smaller recent classes move through the system. If we continue on course, it will likely be three years before we begin to see a true turnaround in total enrollment.
But as I’ve noted earlier, we need to focus on the progress we are making. Already, we are seeing increased registration for fall open houses and increased applications for fall 2019 when compared with the previous year.
Enrollment – both recruitment and retention – must be owned by every one of us. I have been encouraged that the entire university community is stepping forward to embrace this important cause. Given the signs of progress and clear commitment, I remain confident that we are heading in the right direction.