“That was a goal to put us in the top 75 of research institutions and things like that.” Dunn said that he believes in setting an aspirational goal but “that may have been an overreach.” “I’m convinced that we went too far on that end of the continuum and forgot about the fact we are still a public institution, the regional institution for a bunch of counties in Southern Illinois,” he said. On the other end, as enrollment dropped, Dunn said it’s his understanding, from reviewing enrollment data and corresponding student profiles, that during that same time frame some poor decisions were made to enroll students who, by all traditional measurements, were not prepared, leading to a retention problem when those students ultimately dropped out a semester or year later. That also amounted to a disservice to those students, Dunn said, because the university did not have the structures in place to provide that many academically struggling students the supports necessary for success. When they dropped out, many did so saddled with a semester or two of debt into a difficult economy for someone without a diploma or certificate. SIU will always be an access institution, he said. In other words, SIU will always be home of the underdog: first-generation college students, lower-income students who juggle jobs and school, students raising children, and even students without perfect high-school grade cards who show other signs of readiness. “We’re about access. Not open access,” Dunn said. “That’s different. “We can serve a certain number of those access students and we tend to know what that number is and the supports are pretty good.
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