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ECSU has fewer completed applications for fall

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University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings (center) meets with members of the UNC-ECSU Working Group at Elizabeth City State University in this file photo from October. A new report shows ECSU has fewer completed student applications for the 2018-19 year than the two other University North Carolina campuses chosen for a new reduced tuition program.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, January 12, 2018

Elizabeth City State University has fewer completed student applications for the 2018-19 year than the two other University North Carolina campuses chosen for a new reduced tuition program, a new report shows.

While ECSU’s completed applications for the fall are up 11 percent, Western Carolina’s completed applications are up 12 percent and UNC-Pembroke’s are up by a whopping 50 percent, according to UNC data. All three campuses will be participating in the NC Promise program this fall that will offer a per-semester tuition rate of $500 for in-state students and just $2,500 for out-of-state students.

Taking part in a meeting of the UNC-ECSU Working Group by phone on Wednesday, UNC President Margaret Spellings mentioned the lower number of completed applications at ECSU, describing it as concerning. She asked if ECSU was making special appeals to students about its aviation program. 

Althea Riddick, who heads ECSU’s enrollment management effort, said admissions counselors always focus on aviation, pharmaceuticals, music and the honors program in their pitches about the campus to prospective students.

ECSU Board of Trustees Chairman Kim Brown told Working Group members he was disappointed when he saw that ECSU lags behind the other two NC Promise campuses in its number of completed applications.

So far, other signs of ECSU’s enrollment growth have been positive. The university saw its first enrollment increase in seven years this past fall, and freshman admission is currently up 31 percent over this time last year.  

Brown said he believes ECSU needs to target more prospective residents of southeastern Virginia in its recruiting efforts.

Brown and Trustee Harold Barnes, both of whom live in Virginia’s Tidewater area, said they don’t think southeastern Virginia residents are familiar with NC Promise or the opportunities available at ECSU.

“When I mention NC Promise in Virginia, nobody knows what it is,” Brown said.

Brown said he thinks radio advertising could be a big part of the solution. In fact, he said the church he pastors would pay for advertising about ECSU on 103 JAMZ, a station he says is popular with high school students in the area. He said 103 JAMZ blankets an area stretching from Richmond south all the way to Elizabeth City.

“We’re running out of time,” Brown said of the need to recruit more students for 2018-19. ECSU’s goal for freshman enrollment this fall is 600 students.

Harry Smith, a member of the UNC Board of Governors who serves on the Working Group, said he appreciates the passion of ECSU’s trustees. But he said he remains concerned that the physical plant at ECSU is one impediment to recruiting students. ECSU trustees need to advise the UNC Board of Governors what the campus’s facility needs are, he said.

Barnes asked what impact the lack of student activities at ECSU and lack of a robust physical plant have on the recruitment of students.

“I think it has a great impact,” Riddick said, explaining that students who visit the campus tell their friends what they observed when they were here.

“Students beget students,” Riddick said.

Karri Dixon, a UNC vice president who works closely with the Working Group, said rebuilding infrastructure in ECSU’s Division of Student Affairs is important to student recruitment and student retention.

Walter Davenport, who chairs the Working Group, said the group will “dig down” on infrastructure as the university gets ready for NC Promise this fall.

When Brown asked if there was a way to pay bonuses to admissions counselors based on the number of students they recruit, ECSU Provost Vann Newkirk said there isn’t because the practice is not legal.

But Spellings said there are ways to develop “a culture of performance and results.” Over time, she said, those employees who achieve positive recruiting results will be paid more, while those who don’t achieve positive results might be encouraged to find somewhere else to work.

Joshua Lassiter, ECSU’s vice chancellor for business and finance, said one area where the UNC Board of Governors can help ECSU is with campus beautification. He said ECSU spends only half what other UNC campuses spend on grounds maintenance. In addition, he said, only $400,000 of $4.2 million in proposed upgrades to green spaces, roads and pedestrian walkways identified in the campus’s 15-year-old master facilities plan have been constructed.

Those upgrades would improve the look and feel of the campus, Lassiter said.

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