ECSU sees traction on admissions flexibility
By Reggie Ponder
Friday, September 14, 2018
Elizabeth City State University officials continue to push for more flexible minimum admission requirements for students — an effort that’s starting to gain traction with University of North Carolina System officials.
David Powers, who serves as the UNC Board of Governors’ liaison to ECSU, told ECSU trustees this week that the UNC board’s Strategic Directions Committee should probably take a closer look at the admission requirements for ECSU and other UNC schools like UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University that serve primarily rural communities.
UNC System data show enrollment at ECSU has jumped 20 percent since implementation of NC Promise, the tuition reduction program created by the General Assembly in use this fall at ECSU, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina. Under NC Promise, tuition for in-state students is reduced to $500 per semester and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students.
ECSU interim Chancellor Karrie Dixon said the university saw an enormous impact from NC Promise in Virginia. Students from Virginia’s Tidewater region in fact accounted for about 35 percent of ECSU’s out-of-state enrollment this year.
Dixon said ECSU will take what it learned from this year to promote NC Promise to North Carolina students.
But trustees also acknowledged the effect that admissions standards have on enrollment of students from ECSU’s 21-county service area. Trustee Kennis Wilkins said the university needs to take a close look at whatever factors are affecting enrollment from northeastern North Carolina.
Trustee board Chairman Kim Brown cited ECSU’s experience with the Minimum Admission Requirements pilot program as evidence that some students who don’t meet UNC’s systemwide admission standard can still do well in college. The MAR allows ECSU to admit a limited number of students with a grade-point average higher than 2.5 but with SAT or ACT scores lower than the UNC requirement.
“MAR has proven to us that if you give a kid an opportunity they are going to step up to the plate and hit the ball,” Brown said.
Brown said ECSU needs to keep pushing for more flexibility from the minimum standards requirement with UNC officials. He said he was disappointed that ECSU’s enrollment didn’t “explode” in North Carolina with implementation of NC Promise — especially in ECSU’s 21-county service area.
Trustee Harold Barnes, who was elected chairman of ECSU’s trustee board at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, suggested no one should get the wrong idea from trustees’ push for more flexibility in admission requirements. Trustees still believe in academic rigor and expect students to meet rigorous requirements to obtain their degree, he said.
“I don’t believe that anybody believes in lowering standards,” Barnes said. “We believe in lowering barriers.”
Barnes noted the UNC Board of Governors has set up a committee to look at admission requirements.
Brown pointed to his own personal story, explaining that in 1979 he would have been ineligible to enroll at ECSU under the current UNC standards. He said he took “transitional math” his first year of college but went on to graduate and have a successful career.
“The university gave me that chance,” Brown said, referring to his alma mater, Norfolk State University.
Dixon said having the MAR pilot in place for three more years should help ECSU with recruitment in its 21-county service area.
Althea Riddick, who heads enrollment management for the university, told trustees the university accepted for admission 1,471 freshman applicants and enrolled 418 of them.
Among new freshmen, 299 are from North Carolina and 119 are from out of state. Last fall, the university enrolled fewer students overall, but 20 more — 319 — were from North Carolina.
Students from ECSU’s 21-county service area represent 44.7 percent of this year’s freshman class. Among those students, the average grade-point average is 3.28, the average SAT score is 971 and the average ACT score is 18.
For students admitted under the MAR pilot, the average GPA is 3.17, while the average SAT score is 858 and the average ACT score is 16.
Barnes said that especially in ECSU’s 21-county service area, it’s important to look at GPA. Student scores on the SAT or ACT should not be a barrier to admission, he said. Barnes also believes UNC should look at moving away from a one-size-fits-all admission requirement.
“I don’t support ‘one-size-fits-all,’” Powers agreed. “I agree with your premise and let’s find the right way to go with it.”