Explore the Vast Campus of Illinois’s Largest College (2,660 Acres!)

Written by Katarina Betterton
Published: August 11, 2023
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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) has the biggest college campus in Illinois, spanning 2,660 acres.

Illinois is a state with a lot of the “world’s largest.” It has the World’s Largest Wind Chime, the World’s Largest Teeter Totter, the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, and the World’s Largest Mailbox — all in the small town of Casey. 

Did you know Illinois also has one of the largest college campuses in America by land area? Many of the university campuses in Illinois range between a few hundred acres, but one school in particular dwarfs the rest at 2,500+ acres of land.

Keep reading to discover which school has the largest college campus in Illinois, and discover what life is like for those who live, work, and learn there.

The Largest College Campus in Illinois

The largest college campus in Illinois is Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) at 2,660 total acres

Not only is SIUE the largest college campus in the state; but it’s also one of only two major institutions of the Southern Illinois University system. Of the two, it has the larger enrollment. SIUE caters to nearly 10,000 undergraduates and just over 2,000 post-graduates. 

Where is the Largest College Campus in Illinois?

Public library fountain in Edwardsville Illinois

Edwardsville, Illinois has an almost magical essence that enchants locals and college students who live there.

©Jarana/Shutterstock.com

The suburban campus takes up just over 1,000 hectares of land in Edwardsville, Illinois. Edwardsville, which is the county seat of Madison County, sits on the far west side of the state toward the south on the border of Missouri. The Mississippi River also borders the town. 

Edwardsville has been hailed as a “magical meeting place of travelog, memoir, and poetry” by famous writer Ainehi Edoro. The town even took to the silver screen in The Lucky Ones, transforming itself into Denver, Colorado while the movie shot scenes in downtown Edwardsville.

The Core Campus houses most of the main activities of the undergraduate schools, but additional campuses nearby also serve the university’s population. The Alton Campus, located 17 miles from the main campus, is where the Alton Museum of History and Art and School of Dental Medicine are located. Twenty-two miles from the Core Campus is the East St. Louis Center, which spends most of its resources bettering the quality of life of those in urban environments. Finally, the Springfield campus in nearby Springfield, Illinois, has a graduate nursing program and also works closely with the SIU School of Medicine.

Life at the Largest College Campus in Illinois

Living on the largest college campus in Illinois has its perks. Students of SIUE have the distinct opportunity to explore a culturally- and historically significant campus in a unique suburban setting with lakes, trees, and small hamlets. 

Getting Around Campus

Most of the classes and coursework happen on the Core Campus, which is situated near Cougar Lake. The majority of the buildings on the main campus, built in the 1960s, house classrooms, faculty offices, and some dormitories. Thanks to a recent boom in enrollment, more buildings were added to the main campus in the last 10 years. 

Most students choose to walk around campus to get to their classes and activities, but SIUE’s convenient location to the suburban area surrounding it also provides a transit shuttle. This shuttle runs every 10 minutes to ferry students between Peck Hall and Cougar Village, as well as the bus shelter on Hairpin Drive that services the rest of the county.

Lastly, ride-sharing apps including Lyft and Uber have garnered more popularity in the area as more and more students arrive on campus.

Flora on Campus

University of Illinois Extension Garden, Drost Park, Maryville, IL

SIUE’s campus features six unique ecosystems to allow native plants to flourish.

©Michael12345/Shutterstock.com

The Core campus has an ingenious way to expose its students to more of the flora of the campus: the Statton Quadrangle. As a quad, the piece of land was purposefully designed to not have a direct pathway in between buildings so students and faculty had to walk through nature to get to their next destination. One hallmark of the Quadrangle is the Rock, which SIUE’s many student groups compete with to try to keep its colors the longest.

The sprawling campus of SIUE houses a diverse set of ecosystems in specific locations throughout campus. While most are native, some are cultivated by the university’s horticultural staff.

  • Sweet William Woods. See American bellflower, licorice bedstraw, and Japanese honeysuckle. 
  • Prairie restoration area. The blue mistflower, false boneset, and black locust trees thrive in this setting.
  • West Pond. Chinkapin oak, water horsetail, smooth sumac, fogfruit, and narrow-leaf cattail all grow on the banks of the West Pond.
  • Bohm Woods. Home to 30+ plants, students can find the Asiatic dayflower, bitternut hickory tree, pale jewelweed, and wild ginger among the fauna of Bohm Woods.
  • Gardens at SIUE. Butterfly milkweed blooms in excess here, as well as doll’s eyes, beautyberry, ebony spleenwort, and cucumber vine.
  • Science building prairie. Johnson grass grows long and tall near the science building, as well as the prairie blazing star, gray-headed coneflower, and lead plant.
  • Throughout campus. During a walk through campus, students will see black walnut streets, burning bushes, autumn olive shrubs, bull thistle, and nearly 40 other native plants.

This remains just a handful of the many different plants and trees that grow on Illinois’ largest college campus.

Fauna on Campus

Surprisingly, SIUE sits on the grounds of a nature preserve so it has a high animal population compared to other college campuses. While geese and deer remain some of the most common companions to students on their walks to class, other animals will also find their way onto campus. 

Cougar Village, specifically, has the highest concentration of animals near campus. Most animals are still scared of students (and humans in general) but will venture close to campus for water sources, food sources, including scraps in the trash, and warmer places for winter. 

The school works hard to educate students about safety during nighttime walks home, like leaving earbuds out so they can remain vigilant of their surroundings. 

Student Involvement

Most students choose to live off campus who attend SIUE; only about 25% live in campus-owned or affiliated housing. Whether students live on or off campus, the school has over 250 different clubs and organizations for them to stay involved with the campus community. These groups range between academic, cultural, professional, special interest, and Greek persuasions. Some students choose to pursue community service-oriented groups while others enjoy the organizations that offer advantages to their future job prospects. This includes groups that host networking events, and research projects, and help students get grants.

As for athletics, SIUE competes at the NCAA 1 division and has 14 varsity sports (seven male, seven female)  students to join in and compete.

Nearby Nature Attractions

Sunset on the Mississippi River in Natchez, Mississippi with the Natchez Vidalia Bridge.

The Mississippi River remains one of the top outdoor attractions nearby SIUE’s campus.

©EWY Media/Shutterstock.com

If you haven’t already visited the Gardens at SIUE, that’s the first stop on your trip to the school. It’s a breathtaking view of the native flora of the state and region. During the spring and summer, butterflies abound. Even if you’re passing through near the Mississippi River or the nearby Lewis and Clark site, it’s a can’t-miss stop on the journey.

Also close by is the Watershed Nature Center. Ranked as the third-best thing to do in Edwardsville on TripAdvisor, visitors rave about the blooming wildflowers, the trails that are perfect for dogs and kids to walk, and the rare but wonderful opportunity for eco-tourism in the town.

Finally, the Lewis and Clark Historic Site in nearby Hartford offers an in-depth look at Illinois’ role in the explorers’ expedition through America. It even features a reconstructed winter camp. 

Outdoor Recreation 

With a nature preserve on campus, living on SIUE’s property can feel like camping! When students do choose to venture into the surrounding woods and wilderness, they choose to visit sites like 5 Diamond Campground, Trails End RV Campground, and Campground Illinois Wood River.

Students can hike, bike, and kayak around the Mississippi River and even rent gear through the school. Not only can they rent gear; the school’s bike share program connects the school trail, Morris Trail, with the Madison County Transit Trail System and Edwardsville. 

The Cougar Campus Spans Thousands of Acres 

In Madison County, Illinois, you’ll find lakes, rivers, hiking trails, and the largest college campus in Illinois.  Southern Illinois University Edwardsville boasts hundreds of clubs and organizations, a beautiful college campus, and unique opportunities to enjoy the natural flora and fauna of the region. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/pabradyphoto


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About the Author

Katarina is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on dogs, travel, and unique aspects about towns, cities, and countries in the world. Katarina has been writing professionally for eight years. She secured two Bachelors degrees — in PR and Advertising — in 2017 from Rowan University and is currently working toward a Master's degree in creative writing. Katarina also volunteers for her local animal shelter and plans vacations across the globe for her friend group. A resident of Ohio, Katarina enjoys writing fiction novels, gardening, and working to train her three dogs to speak using "talk" buttons.

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