But for the first time, SIUE now has more enrolled students than the original school, SIU Carbondale, which may not matter much in itself but symbolizes changes and conflicts the university system has been dealing with lately.
SIUE did not move into the lead during an up year. Total enrollment for the fall semester actually dropped by 515 to 13,281, or 3.7 percent. But total enrollment at SIUC dropped a lot more – by 11.9 percent to 12,817.
It was the biggest enrollment decline in 15 years at SIUC and left it with roughly half the number of students it had at its 1991 peak of 24,869. SIUC enrollment also dropped by 7.5 percent in 2016 and nine percent in 2017.
THE RAUNER EFFECT
Several factors have been working against Illinois’ public universities in recent years, most notably a lack of funding from the state under Governor Bruce Rauner that has forced tuition levels above those in neighboring states such as Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri and made campus improvements harder to achieve.
SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said his school had record graduating classes of 2,380 in 2017 and 2,617 in 2018, leaving a large void that couldn’t be replaced instantly.
“We knew it would be challenging to replace those classes,” he said. “Initial data for next year’s class indicates the prospect pool is up at this point from a year ago, and we have initiatives in place to enhance enrollment growth in the future.”
He outlined some ways the school intends to stay competitive.
“We continue to investigate innovative academic programming that will serve the needs of the business sector and be popular with both traditional and non-traditional students,” he said. “We are creating flexibility for students who have academic interests that span across disciplines, and our online offerings continue to grow so students can learn both on and off-campus.”
SOME HIGH POINTS
While overall SIUE enrollment was down, it grew among the three largest Metro-East counties – Madison, St. Clair and Monroe – and also among students from the Springfield, IL area, up 8 percent.
The SIUE School of Nursing had strong enrollment growth, as did the graduate school. The pharmacy and dental medicine schools also grew.
A few other items:
• It’s a smart freshman class, with an average ACT score of 23.3, third best ever.
• The school has enrolled 249 doctoral students, up 21 percent and the highest ever.
• The School of Nursing hit a record with enrollment of 1,701 including undergraduate, master’s level and doctoral students.
SIUC FORECASTS TURNAROUND
SIUC leaders say the school’s enrollment decline was actually expected and could have been worse if the SIU Foundation and Alumni Association hadn’t stepped up with some money that helped students enroll or stay in school.
They predicted the school will turn around its enrollment trend next year and forecast a return to the 18,000 range by 2025 at the sprawling campus in the heart of southern Illinois.
Attendance at open houses for prospective students has increased, and applications for fall 2019 are up over the previous year.
Ongoing funding problems have been behind a series of disputes between the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. State funding has traditionally been split on a 60-40 basis between them, with Carbondale getting the most, but the gap has slipped to about 64-36 even though SIUE enrollment has been growing and SIUC enrollment sliding down.
State Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) has been leading efforts to change that discrepancy by filing legislation calling for the State Board of Higher Education to conduct an independent study of how the SIU Board of Trustees allocates funding.
“SIUE has grown to be a major economic engine for the Metro East, not only for the students, but for all residents of the region and it’s time for the distribution of state funding to reflect that growth,” Stuart said. “The days of Carbondale serving as the main campus and Edwardsville serving as a satellite campus are distant history.”