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UNC president: NC Promise working as intended

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William L. Roper (left), interim president of the University of North Carolina System, speaks during an interview during his visit to Elizabeth City State University, Tuesday. ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon looks on at right. Tuesday marked Roper's first visit to ECSU since being named interim president of the UNC system four months ago.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The president of the University of North Carolina System said Tuesday the tuition-lowering NC Promise program is working as intended and that Elizabeth City State University is poised to complete a dramatic turnaround that is already well underway.

“The NC Promise program is something that we are really proud of,” William L. Roper said in an interview at ECSU during his first visit to the campus since taking over as UNC System president earlier this year.

NC Promise offers a sharply discounted tuition rate of $500 a semester to in-state students at three UNC campuses: ECSU, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.

The program was carefully designed by the General Assembly, Roper said. He noted that during a meeting with Senate President Phil Berger on Monday, the lawmaker agreed the program is doing what it was designed to do.

NC Promise has enabled ECSU, Pembroke and Western Carolina to grow not only their enrollment numbers, but also to enroll more students with higher test scores and other positive indicators, according to Roper.

“The program has been a great success,” he said.

Asked about possible expansion of the NC Promise program to other UNC campuses, Roper said Berger told him he favors continuing to operate the program as is for now. That way, the UNC System can get experience with the program and obtain sufficient data on its performance before changing or adding to it, he said.

Roper said Berger feels similarly about a proposal to eliminate university tuition costs altogether for early college students who earn an associate’s degree while still in high school.

Roper said he agrees with Berger’s wait-and-see approach before proposing any changes to NC Promise.

Roper, who just started his fourth month as interim president of the UNC System, is in the process of visiting all 17 campuses. ECSU was the 12th he’s visited thus far.

Roper’s stop at ECSU Tuesday also included a look at the university’s signature program in aviation science.

“I think it’s a terrific program,” Roper said. “I’m very bullish on it.”

Roper also spoke highly Tuesday of Chancellor Karrie Dixon, whom his predecessor as UNC System president, Margaret Spellings, sent to ECSU to “turn the university around.”

Roper said ECSU’s turnaround “is well underway.” But noting that ECSU’s physical plant has been underfunded in the past, he also said “we have got some work to do to repair and renovate and build” on the campus.

ECSU also needs to further restore the confidence of the people of northeastern North Carolina in the institution, Roper said. He indicated he believes that will happen with Dixon’s leadership.

“I’m quite confident that Chancellor Dixon and her staff are up to the task,” he said.

The UNC system has some outstanding academic programs that can help ECSU continue to grow its enrollment and perform its important function in the northeastern region of the state, Roper said.

For her part, Dixon said ECSU is fortunate to have Roper as president of the UNC System. He understands the university system and ECSU’s unique role within it, she said.

In other matters, Roper briefly addressed the Confederate monument controversy at UNC-Chapel Hill. In response to a question about the future of “Silent Sam,” which monument opponents pulled down from its pedestal last year, Roper said the controversy requires his attention.

However, he also said he has not let that controversy — or any other — keep him from the main business of the UNC System office, which he said is celebrating and supporting the work of the system’s 17 constituent institutions.

“We have 17 wonderful institutions across the state,” Roper said.

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