ECSU spared from closure

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RALEIGH – A measure included in the NC Senate’s version of the proposed new state budget that would have affected Elizabeth City State University has fell by the wayside.

In Saturday’s edition, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald gauged local reaction to a provision in the budget that the UNC Board of Governors study dissolving certain “small, unprofitable” schools that have had a 20 percent drop in enrollment over four years; or at least they should consider removing these schools from the UNC system.

One institution named in particular in that provision was Elizabeth City State, a move that drew criticism from State House Representative Annie Mobley, an ECSU alum and whose Fifth District includes Bertie, Hertford, and Gates counties from which a sizeable number of ECSU students hail and it also includes a portion of Pasquotank County where the university itself is located. Joining her in defense of Elizabeth City State was Ervin Simons, former board chairman of the ECSU National Alumni Association.

Their pleas for help fell on friendly ears as 1st District State Senator Bill Cook filed an amendment to the budget, a measure that received a favorable vote from his Senate colleagues as that particular provision was removed.

“I am pleased that my fellow Senate members have chosen to stand with me in deleting this budget provision,” Cook said. “The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina does not need legislative prompting to study and correct declining enrollment. Elizabeth City State University has been a significant center for learning in the Northeast for many years. I want to see it continue to provide higher learning opportunities for our students for many more years to come.”

While the numbers do show declining enrollment at ECSU – 3,307 students in 2010; 2,930 in 2011; 2,878 in 2012; and 2,421 in 2013 – Cook said there are other options available on how to possibly turn those numbers around.

“ECSU has had its fair share of problems in the past few years, but I do not think this study is the best way to begin addressing them,” Cook said.

Cook also pointed to a 2010 study where it was shown that ECSU brought in $112 million in output sales, $83 million in added value and provided over 1,500 jobs to the area.  “The university is a great asset to the economy, community and the UNC system,” he stated.

As one of 11 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) in the state and one of five public HBCUs, ElizabethCityState has struggled financially while experiencing a 33 percent decline in enrollment from 2010 to 2013 according to the U.S. Department of Education.

According to its website ECSU currently has 2,155 full-time students and 266 part-time students.

Simons pointed to what he feels are enrollment discrepancies among large and small colleges and universities in the state,

“A lot of this is due to increases in minimum enrollment criteria,” Simons says. “The N.C.State’s, the UNC’s and others have enrollments such that if a student can’t make the minimum criteria it doesn’t hurt them. For small schools like Elizabeth City and small HBCU’s in general, it’s vital that those statutes not be put on those schools because they provide a necessary chance for a student with lesser opportunity to go to a small university, so declining enrollment is due to part of such legislation.”

Simons says the university administration and alumni are working to increase enrollment at ECSU.

“There’s no immediate turnaround for anything,” he insisted. “Closing Elizabeth City is not the answer to them finding greater financial stability in education.”