CARBONDALE — The number of first-time college students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale increased by 31.2% this fall. The total reflects a 32.9% increase in new first-time students enrolling from the Southern Illinois region.

The university also saw continued growth in the freshman to sophomore retention rate, reflecting the percentage of last year’s first-time freshmen who returned this fall. This year’s rate is 80.6%, the highest in 20 years and up from 72% in 2017 and 75% last year.

Chancellor Austin A. Lane said the increases reflect hard work across the campus and are a signal that the university will see positive growth in total enrollment in the near future.

“Our official enrollment figures give us a lot to celebrate,” said Lane, who became SIU’s chancellor in July. “Both applications and admissions of new students are up, and we are keeping more of the students we enroll. We are turning the tide.”

Total enrollment stands at 11,366, a decline of 2.8% from fall 2019. The university has seen declines between 8% and 12% in each of the last four years.

“This is significant change in the right direction,” Lane said. “As we attract and retain larger classes, we should see positive percentages in enrollment growth very soon.

New strategiesLane said the turnaround has not happened by accident.

“It has been a campus-wide effort, starting with our admissions team and extending to our faculty and staff,” he said. “Everyone has embraced enrollment as a responsibility.”

John Frost, the university’s director of admissions since March 2019, says members of the recruitment staff have focused on new ways to engage students and families, increased outreach with high school counselors, and implemented a new customer relationship management system that supports and tracks interaction with prospective students. The university has also enhanced other marketing strategies.

“We know that the university has a lot to offer students, including students in our region,” Frost said. “We are finding innovative ways to tell our story and better engage our partners. One example is the SIU Day events that brought hundreds of high school students and their high school counselors to campus to experience first-hand all that SIU offers.”

Partnerships with high schools are paying off. For example, this year the university implemented a Counselor Choice Scholarship for students in the Southern Illinois region. High school guidance counselors were invited to submit the names of five students to receive a $1,500 scholarship each for four years.

The only criteria were that the student must be admitted and enrolled for fall 2020.

“Students have choices, and many apply to multiple universities,” Frost said. “We want students in Southern Illinois to know that we welcome them at SIU and they have an opportunity to get a high-quality education at a national research university close to home.”

High schools sending the most students this year that also increased the number of students over last year are Carbondale Community High School, Murphysboro High School, DuQuoin High School, Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School, Belleville Township High School East, Carterville High School and Belleville Township High School West.

Other highlights about fall enrollment include:

• Top majors for new first-time students are aviation flight, zoology, psychology, criminology and criminal justice, biological science, business, automotive technology, radiologic sciences, animal science and physiology.

• Top majors for new transfer students are aviation management, elementary education, accounting, automotive technology, criminology and criminal justice, industrial management and applied engineering, biological science, health care management, radiologic sciences, psychology and information technology.

• New freshman and transfer students represent 42 states and 21 countries.

• 50.3% of all students are male and 49.2% are female, with the balance not reporting.

• Minority students make up 28.0% of total enrollment, up slightly from 27.2% last fall.

• International student enrollment held steady at 8.1% of the total; students come from 99 countries, with the highest numbers coming from China, India, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.

• Following Illinois, states enrolling the most students at SIU are Missouri, Indiana, California, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Texas.

Looking toward fall 2021

The university is already actively working on recruitment for next year’s fall class. An important recent change that will impact the class is the move to test optional admissions, removing a major barrier in the application and admission process. In addition, SIU is expanding its recruitment territories to encourage more out-of-state undergraduates to attend the university at in-state tuition rates. Increased investments are being made in marketing, as well.

The admissions team has also adapted to the challenges of recruiting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, new virtual chats with counselors are available in both English and Spanish.

Many of these efforts will be supported by a new, strategic enrollment committee drawing expertise from across campus. The committee will focus on addressing the gaps and progress of prospective students from inquiry to enrollment; external partnerships with businesses and local organizations; policies, protocols and engaging stakeholders in significant changes; and creating and leading campus events, both in-person and virtually, to increase enrollment.

“It will be important for the entire campus and surrounding community and region to assist us in increasing enrollment,” Lane said. “We are a first choice university and major player in the economic development efforts of this region.”

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