Southern Illinois University Carbondale for decades was the star of the local higher education system, with lots of doctoral programs, 42 academic departments, a large resident student population, football and the other trappings of a "real" university.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville was the red-headed step-child. A commuter school, then a mix of commuters and residents, but never quite gaining the lofty academic reputation of its southern parent institution.
It's time for a re-assessment and reality check.
SIUC is in free fall: Enrollment dropped 9 percent in the fall. But the scary number was freshman enrollment, which took a nearly 20 percent hit and indicates more bad news is to come. Total enrollment was 14,554, which is down by one third from 15 years ago.
SIUC Chancellor Carlo Montemagno sees the problem and is trying to push a massive reorganization, but the organization is pushing back hard. He's been under fire for getting his family hired and getting the university to pay for their moves to Carbondale, a scandal that is effectively depleting his authority and ability to carry out the reorganization.
The rice bowls are protected, but will SIUC be able to fix itself? Will it again be able to attract those Chicago kids down to the Shawnee Forest? Odds are not in its favor, especially as our unreliable state continues making tuition the only revenue they can control, rising so fast that students look elsewhere for a better deal.
SIUE has been on an upward trajectory, to the point that the two campuses are nearly even in enrollment. But when it comes to money? They are very uneven.
Inequity is also seen in the student-to-faculty ratios, with SIUC at 15 to 1 and SIUE at 17 to 1. By comparison, the University of Illinois is 20 to 1 and Mizzou is 19 to 1.
The Carbondale financial behemoth was underscored when it blew through $83 million in reserves and had to go to its younger sibling and ask to borrow $35 million. That brought out the Edwardsville faculty decrying the state funding split of 70 percent for SIUC to 30 percent for SIUE that has existed for decades, although the SIU president contended it was more like 60-40. In terms of operating budgets it is a 63-37 split.
It's time for SIU's Board of Trustees to face the new reality and make some changes.
Edwardsville sits in the heart of a metropolitan area with a need for workforce training and a growing innovation and entrepreneurial district. There is a major military installation nearby that draws bright young people with a strong work ethic, security clearances and continuing education needs.
Past calls to split up the SIU system were wrong because they would create duplicate, inefficient overhead. Illinois needs reorganization and consolidation at all government levels, and the better direction would be for SIU to join another state university system.
But the SIU system can reorganize internally. Rather than just the Carbondale campus looking at a reorganization, the whole system needs to be revamped. The services and dollars need to be placed where the students and the opportunity are, not where administrators hope to find them.
You can dump a whole lot of money into SIUC and hope it returns to its former glory, or you can finally fund SIUE in a fair manner and invest in a campus with a much more promising potential for growth.