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ECU's 2019 enrollment unclear, despite some encouraging signs


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, April 12, 2019

While early signs point to an uptick in freshman enrollment, a top ECU administrator said overall enrollment in the coming 2019-20 school year remains unclear.

Chris Locklear, vice provost for academic success, reviewed early enrollment figures and outlined steps the university is taking to attract new students at Thursday’s meeting of the university affairs committee of ECU’s Board of Trustees.

The full board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. today in Ballroom A of the new Main Campus Student Center, 500 Library Drive.

The factor that may have the greatest effect on enrollment — and possibly lead to a decline — is the one that the university will be celebrating on May 3, graduation day.

The university is on track to award its largest number of credentials, a projected 7,278, in academic year 2018-19, Locklear said. That includes nearly 5,000 bachelor’s, 1,411 master’s and nearly 300 professional and research doctoral degrees along with added certifications.

While more students are graduating, recent enrollment figures aren’t filling in the empty seats. The university needs to get high school seniors and their parents on campus, Locklear said.

“We need to get folks here to have an authentic experience to overcome some misperceptions,” he said.

Outgoing trustee Deborah Davis offered a similar assessment during an earlier health sciences committee meeting.

“I think we are not getting our story out the way we should,” Davis said. Staff presented data showing that 224 nursing graduates in 2018 — 99 percent of the class — passed state licensure exams. UNC Chapel Hill had the next highest number of graduates at 166. Students who graduated from the College of Allied Health Sciences’ physician assistant, occupational therapy and physical therapy programs had a 100 percent pass rate on licensure exams, said Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to package this information in a unique way,” Davis said.

The 2018 freshman enrollment dropped by more than 400 students compared to the previous year. Staff began looking at immediate changes in recruitment efforts to stem the loss, Locklear said. It started with examining students who were admitted to ECU but went to a different school.

The university accepted 14,393 freshman for the fall 2018 semester and 4,175 accepted, according to data presented by Locklear. Among the students who didn’t enroll at ECU, 900 enrolled at UNC-Charlotte, 765 at N.C. State University and 733 at Appalachian State University. The others enrolled in community colleges, other UNC institutions, private schools and other colleges and universities.

Locklear said that between fall 2017 and fall 2018, there was a 50 percent increase in Wake County freshmen who were accepted at ECU but decided to attend Appalachian State. There was a similar increase in students who enrolled at UNC Charlotte.

The competitor colleges rated higher in career preparation, academic reputation and environment of academic excellence and other areas, he said.

ECU accepts 85 percent of the students who apply, Locklear said. The university hasn’t lowered its admission standards to attract students and most applicants exceed those standards.

This year’s recruitment efforts have focused on improving on-campus tours for prospective students and their families, The decision to send admitted students “No Quarter” flags proved popular and resulted in an uptick in social media activity as students posted photographs of their flags.

The Chancellor’s Scholars, a campaign where 1,000 students each receive $1,000 scholarships also has been successful, with 600 students accepting the award so far, Locklear said.

That campaign, however, has shown that the university needs to refine some of its scholarship programs to aid upperclassmen.

The university set a goal of recruiting 4,259 freshmen, a 2 percent increase from 2018, for the fall 2019 semester, Locklear said. Early indicators are that goal will be met because paid deposits for housing and orientation are up compared to the some time the previous year, he said.

“I remain optimistic. We are on goal and may a little bit above goal,” Locklear said.

However, it’s too early to predict if the university will meet its goal to increase transfer student enrollment. Applications and admissions are down to date, he said. While ECU has struck guaranteed admission deals with a number of community colleges, it’s too early to see what the effect will be.

Graduate student applications also are down.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.