The UNC System’s interim president said ECU’s future “is looking bright,” in his Friday report to Board of Governors.
Interim President William Roper updated the board on East Carolina University’s financial status at the start of Friday’s meeting.
“Last year, many were concerned about East Carolina University’s enrollment and financial stability. I’m happy to report that these concerns have not been realized,” Roper said. The university's finances have “stabilized," he said.
ECU interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach is actively involved in approving expenditures, Roper said, including those for auxiliary operations such as athletics and ECU Physicians.
Earlier this year it was reported that ECU was facing a drop in student enrollment and losses from its revenue generating operations, ECU Physicians and in athletics.
A hiring freeze and postponed capital projects allowed the university to reduce operating expenses by $16 million for fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The forecasted losses at ECU Physicians, the medical practice of the Brody School of Medicine, did not occur and its budget has been balanced. The university also didn’t transfer $10 million from ECU Physicians’ fund balance to the athletics program as was anticipated, Roper said.
“ECU’s athletics program continues to pose some challenges, but management is fully engaged with the university’s board of trustees to develop a workable long-term plan,” Roper said.
The university also paid down $20 million of debt, Roper said. It has an unrestricted cash fund balance was $231 million.
The financial rating agency Standard and Poor’s also reaffirmed the university AA- bond rating in July, which Roper described as a stable credit rating.
“We knew from the first day I started that there are budget challenges facing the university that needed to be addressed," Gerlach said in a later interview. "There were efforts underway before I got there and now we are continuing and expanding those efforts. We are trying to work together constructively to deal with the issues.”
Equally significant is ECU’s fall enrollment numbers.
It was predicted earlier this year ECU’s enrollment could drop by more than 400 students.
Instead, enrollment is down by 67 students, prompting Roper to describe it as “flat.”
However, freshman enrollment is up by 4.6 percent, which Roper described as considerable. New transfer students increased by 0.6 percent.
“All this points to one, clear and obvious takeaway,” Roper said, “The Pirate Nation’s future is looking bright.”
Meetings of the Board of Governors are two-day sessions. Gerlach said several governors commented that “things seem to have quieted down” at ECU and they were glad.
“Obviously we’re trying to focus on maximizing student success and all the other things we’re trying to accomplish,” Gerlach said. “Giving our governing board some confidence that things are improving and there is more to do is helpful.”