ECU administrators anticipate freshman enrollment will increase in the fall but not enough to offset the loss of students due to a record setting graduating class.
The result will be students taking fewer credit hours, which will cut state funding to the university, Provost Ron Mitchelson told the university’s new Board of Trustees during its orientation session on Thursday.
“The bottom line is we are probably going to have another decline. It’s almost inescapable. I am hopeful it’s not as large as 2018-19, when we were down over 20,000 credit hours,” Mitchelson said, resulting in a $16 million funding loss.
Mitchelson anticipates East Carolina University will welcome 4,400 students when classes begin next month. “I think a freshman class of 4,300 is already guaranteed,” he said. “It’s a big freshman class, significantly larger, we’re regaining momentum there.”
The board’s orientation session took place during the ninth of 10 freshman orientation session hosted by the university this summer, said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs. Hardy said 1,000 students and their family members were on campus Thursday. A total of 4,500 students and family members were expected to participate in orientation sessions this summer, she said.
Mitchelson gave a nearly one hour review of challenges facing both ECU and other institutions of higher learning because of the attention focused on the drop in student enrollment the school experienced last fast.
The university enrolled 4,175 students in the fall of 2018. It wasn’t a small class when looking back on the school’s history, but it didn’t meet the goal of about 4,450 freshmen, Mitchelson said.
Another reason for the drop in credit hours is the number of students transferring from community colleges is expected to remain flat this fall, Mitchelson said. The university has signed agreement with 16 community colleges guaranteeing its graduates can transfer to ECU if they meet enrollment standards and hopes to sign agreements with 10 other community colleges.
The university also is also expecting its graduate student enrollment to decrease 3 percent, which is less than the 5 percent decrease it experienced last school year, Mitchelson said.
Nationwide universities are struggling with enrollment growth because fewer babies are being born so there are fewer people who need a degree. Last year Wake County public schools expected 1,500 new students; it got 42, Mitchelson said. Other North Carolina public school systems also had smaller than expected enrollment growth.
ECU has the particular challenge of being a school that historically served rural communities which are now seeing population drops.
Nearly 40 percent of the state’s population growth through 2010-2038 will be in Wake and Mecklenberg counties, Mitchelson said. As the state’s population becomes more urbanized ECU must adapt.
“I get upset with some narratives; we let in anybody, ECU is scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Mitchelson said. “Forgive me, that’s not taking place. When someone says something weird, correct them.”
ECU’s freshmen admissions require a 2.5 Grade Point Average or SAT of least 990. The state’s minimum standards for admission is a 2.5 GPA and an SAT of 880.
There were more than 19,000 applications submitted to ECU for fall 2019, a record, Mitchelson. “Anyone who says to you applications are declining at ECU is incorrect,” he said. The acceptance rate this fall was 78.6 percent. Mitchelson said that translates into 4,100 students not being accepted.
Mitchelson said the university is tracking where students admitted to ECU but didn’t accept ended up going.
Nearly 800 went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte while another 765 students went to N.C. State University and 733 when to Appalachian State.
The university has found part of its problem in retaining applicants is a misconception that the university isn’t preparing its graduates for a career.
“Part of our problem last year was the negativity that came out of Greenville and some of it was coming out of the group around this table,” Mitchelson said. He urged the trustees to share their experiences at the university with potential students and their families.
The university has two full-time recruiters living and working in Mecklenburg County, two in Wake County and one in the Triad so they can spend more time sharing ECU’s story, Mitchelson said.
The university also is increasing its financial aid offerings with a focus of helping returning students.
Student housing is an area that worried administrators earlier this year and which now picking up.
The university will have 5,713 beds in 16 residence halls this fall, said Hardy. In January, she reported the university had 350 empty beds during the fall 2018 semester, a number that would have been more than 700 if Greene Residence Hall, which was undergoing renovations, had been open. At the time Hardy said she was nervous about Greene reopening.
The university solved the vacant bed dilemma by taking rooms in dorms that haven’t undergone recent renovations and converting them into singles, she said. The university also made more beds available to upperclassmen and transfer students who wanted to live on campus.
A portion of Umstead has been converted to office space, she said, and Slay has been turned over for office space.
Hardy said a small group of students will have to be housed in temporary housing for a short time but they won’t be placed in off-campus housing. Instead facilities at the university will be transformed into temporary living quarters.
Earlier this year administrators said plans to renovate an existing building to house a new $8 million innovation hub for the Miller School of Entrepreneurship were being put on hold because the costs were exceeding the budgeted amount.
The project is on again because a new space has been located, the old Dowdy Book Store located in Wright Building, said Jay Golden, vice chancellor for Research, Economic Development and Engagement.
The innovation hub is a space where students and others from different areas of study can work of projects and produce prototypes.
There will be collaboration and laboratory space along with a “collision space” described on the ECU Office of Innovation and New Ventures as “allowing innovators of different disciplines and backgrounds to connect and foster idea development.”
Contact Ginger Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9570.