Freshmen key to uptick in enrollment at ECSU


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Elizabeth City State University officials took a brief victory lap this week to celebrate exceeding the university’s enrollment goal for the fall semester. However, they also acknowledged there are areas where work is still needed to boost student enrollment and retention.

Darius Eure, who heads ECSU's admissions effort, reported to university trustees Tuesday that freshman enrollment this semester is 349 — surpassing the university’s goal of 322.

Board of Trustees Chairman Kim Brown said he wanted the trustees, and especially the new trustees, to understand the significance of the uptick in enrollment.

"This has been the millstone hanging around our neck and we are really proud of the progress that we have made," Brown said.

Eure said not only did overall enrollment increase, but this semester shows gains specifically in new enrollment from the ECSU’s 21-county service area in northeastern North Carolina.

"Our home is in the 21 counties," Eure said, noting the university also attracts students from other counties and other states.

Eure pointed out for special attention that while the top three counties by new enrollment are Pasquotank — the university’s home county and the top source of new students this semester — and traditionally strong recruiting grounds Hertford and Halifax, the fourth county for new students is Wake, which traditionally has not been one of the university’s major sources of students.

University officials attribute the current improvement in enrollment to a number of factors. One is a new contract this year with InsideTrack, a private firm that provides student coaching services.

Joshua Lassiter, ECSU’s vice chancellor for business and finance, said the initiative was paid for with stabilization funds from the General Assembly that were appropriated, according to the legislation, “for the purpose of enhancing technology related to enrollment and recruitment of students.” The improvement in technological support for recruitment was coupled with the work of a 13-member enrollment coaching team that called prospective students and guided them through the enrollment process, Lassiter explained. 

Alongside the university’s recruitment push is an effort to improve student retention.

Farrah Ward, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, told trustees that ECSU’s freshmen retention rate grew from 68 percent to 74 percent. The Student Success Center is focused on increasing the first-time freshman retention rate, she said. 

Special efforts include offering freshman advising, block schedules for freshmen, campus tutoring, and freshman seminars 1 and II. The freshman seminars include common reading — Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” — and a service learning project.

Answering a question from Trustee Lynne Bunch about the process for assigning freshman advisers, Ward said incoming freshmen are now assigned an adviser immediately. The adviser is whoever is that student’s instructor for freshman seminar.

The university is also adding two new positions to help with student retention: a technology specialist and an engagement coordinator.

University officials also reported on graduate program recruitment efforts. Those efforts include a digital recruitment campaign, strategic travel to schools to recruit students, and recruitment of ECSU undergraduates.

ECSU Provost  Vann Newkirk said the university is looking at an online-only elementary education master’s degree program as one strategy for rebuilding the graduate program in elementary education. Enrollment in the program has lagged in recent years.

Newkirk noted that ECSU’s graduate education agreement with the University of North Carolina system and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction allows only teachers with a North Carolina teaching license and three years of teaching experience to enroll in the program.

Brown — who pastors a church with campuses in Elizabeth City and Virginia and who lives in Virginia — seemed almost incredulous that teachers in nearby Virginia could not enroll in ECSU’s graduate program in elementary education.

“We’re missing a big market there,” Brown said.

Newkirk said ECSU staff would work on renogotiating the agreement to allow Virginia-licensed teachers to participate in the graduate degree program.

The university also is working to expand its distance education programs, with a goal of increasing overall enrollment and also increasing access to success for low-income, rural and underserved students.