ecu campus

ECU orientation assistant Audrey Estep speaks with incoming freshmen and their family members before leading the group on a walking tour of campus in this 2013 file photo. Early applications to ECU are up this year, as are the number of deposits paid by students who want to join the Pirate Nation, administrators reported.

Early applications to East Carolina University are up, as are the number of deposits paid by students who want to join the Pirate Nation, administrators reported.

However, questions about whether East Carolina University should be more selective about who is admitted were raised during last week’s Board of Trustees meeting.

ECU Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson reported that as of Nov. 21, the university had received 16,564 new freshmen enrollment applications and 381 deposits have been paid, well above last year’s deposits. Graduate program applications also are up, he said.

Although not discussed during the trustees’ meeting, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Admissions Stephanie Whaley said the uptick in applications was helped by free college application week, when all institutions in the University of North Carolina System waived application fees for the week of Oct. 21-25.

It was the first time ECU had waived its $75 fee.

“We received more freshmen applications in that week than we ever had in a single five-day period in our history,” Whaley said. “We received 6,225 applications that week.”

While free application week ended a month ago, ECU continues to receive a lot of applications, she said.

“That tells me that was a big boost for us but it’s not the only thing contributing to the interest in East Carolina University, because students are still applying,” Whaley said.

It still is too early to say if the increase is a result of more students applying to ECU or if students simply are applying earlier, she said. The university will know more after December and January, which traditionally are when larger numbers of applications are submitted.

Whaley said it appears that high school students are applying to college earlier in their senior year. One reason is that colleges and universities are opening their application process earlier and technology makes it easier to fill out and submit multiple applications online, she said.

Also, federal financial aid forms, which once were available after Jan.1, now are available on Oct. 1. Students often fill out applications in conjunction with their financial aid applications, she said.

The enrollment discussion was connected to a presentation Whaley and Clint Bailey, director of strategic marketing, gave on freshmen recruitment marketing.

“There is a spectrum of numerous activities that go into recruiting a student,” Bailey said. “ECU takes a very well-rounded, very aggressive approach to bringing in the next generation of Pirates.”

The recruitment process now extends to elementary schools, where a video starring PeeDee the Pirate urges youngsters to dream about their future but remember to “study hard, make good choices and you can be a Pirate too,” Whaley said.

Pinpointing future Pirates will become increasingly important in the next decade, she said.

The Western Interstate Higher Education Commission, a nonprofit organization that facilitate resource sharing among the higher education systems, produced a study that shows that in 2026 there will be a steep decline in high school graduates nationwide.

“The reason for that is because in 2008, when we had the recession, people had fewer children,” Whaley said. “In 2026, they’ll become18 and there are going to be fewer 18-year-olds to recruit. It will continue six to eight years after that. It’s something all colleges and universities are going to have to prepare for.”

In earlier discussions about future enrollment, it also has been noted that the overall population of numerous eastern North Carolina counties is declining, resulting in fewer future high school graduates and more North Carolina universities targeting the ones that remain.

Trustee Thomas Furr asked if the university should consider reducing the number of students it accepts.

Lower the acceptance rate would “send a message that I probably can’t use this as a safe school, I should use this as a permanent school,” Furr said. “Even though we have great kids, great academics, great requirements to come here there is just a perception out there.

“We need to let everybody know we’ve got some of the best kids coming here and some of the best kids leaving but because of a perception … it’s a game all universities play,” Furr said.

ECU is responsible for educating numerous first-generation college students, many who are students of color, providing them with a degree that has allowed them to find jobs and flourish, said Ron Mitchelson, interim chancellor, who has been with the university 20 years.

“I feel very strongly about our mission and what we accomplish,” Mitchelson said.

Furr, an ECU graduate and founder and CEO of Durham-based PatientPay, agreed the university does an incredible job preparing young adults for the workforce. However, he said he knows what his children and their friends say about the college application process.

They say that a school with a high acceptance rate is perceived as easy and become their “safety school,” he said.

“If there is a way we can model students and don’t give acceptance to everyone, it makes it a little more desirable for students to say I’m going to a school that is a little more selective in the applications they give out,’” Furr said. “In today’s world that data is pretty relevant when you goggle ‘ECU acceptance,’ ‘NC State acceptance,’ whatever school’s acceptance.”

ECU currently accepts about 78-79 percent of all its applicants. North Carolina State University accepts nearly 50 percent of its applicants and UNC-Chapel Hill accepts slightly more than 25 percent of its applicants, Furr said.

“We have to balance our mission, giving kids in North Carolina, eastern North Carolina, an opportunity to go to college for the first time while also going after the best and brightest students in North Carolina,” said Trustee Robert Moore, an ECU alum and owner and president of Riley Outdoor, a billboard business based in Kinston.

Contact Ginger Livingston at or 252-329-9570.