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Spellings: ECSU has 'turned the corner'

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The president of the University of North Carolina said during a visit to Elizabeth City State University Friday that ECSU has “turned the corner” on enrollment and is set for even more growth as the state’s NC Promise tuition discount kicks in next year.

“It’s really encouraging,” UNC President Margaret Spellings said of ECSU’s uptick in freshman enrollment, adding, “I think we’ve turned the corner.”

Spellings said she knows the improved enrollment is exciting to everyone at ECSU and the whole Elizabeth City community.

ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway agreed that this year’s larger freshman class and the overall improvement in enrollment is “a very good sign.”

During an interview at ECSU’s aviation STEM lab, Spellings said this is just the beginning. The real spike in enrollment will come next fall as ECSU, along with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University, implements the NC Promise program that will set tuition for in-state students at $500 a semester and also offer out-of-state students a discounted rate of $2,500 a semester.

Spellings called NC Promise a “huge, huge opportunity” for students and for the university.

Conway said he is hearing from recruiters as they travel across the state that they are encountering tremendous excitement about NC Promise among students and their parents.

Additionally, Spellings said ECSU’s aviation program gives the university a “major competitive advantage.” She said it’s a perfect example of the “centers of excellence” philosophy the state university system is following in establishing unique, high-value programs at each institution while also providing basic or “core” curriculum programs system-wide.

The aviation science program at ECSU is the only four-year aviation curriculum in the state and the new emergency management curriculum is the only one in the eastern part of the state, with the other at Western Carolina University.

Spellings said the aviation program is “on the bull’s eye” of what the marketplace needs.

Conway noted the director and assistant director of the state’s Division of Emergency Management were on campus Wednesday. One of the things they discussed during the visit was the opportunity to collaborate with the aviation program on the use of drones to help emergency responders gather information quickly, which is a cutting-edge approach in the emergency management field, he said.

“There are opportunities for synergy here” as the aviation and emergency management programs work together, Conway said.

Harry Smith, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, said during the visit to the aviation STEM lab that aviation is a signature program of ECSU and a good example of the way the university system is establishing signature programs at institutions around the state. Aviation is a great program because it leads to good jobs, he said.

“The demand in that field is phenomenal,” Smith said. The state needs to continue to invest in the aviation program and look for ways to expand it, he said.

Conway pointed out that ECSU partners closely in the aviation STEM lab with the local charter school, the Northeast Academy of Aviation and Advanced Technologies. A group of NEAAAT students were working on projects in the lab Friday and were getting some mentoring from ECSU students.

Spellings said the tour underscored the need to update the master facilities plan for ECSU.

“We have work to do — it’s clear,” she said of the facilities outlook. But she said updating the master plan would help address the facilities needs.

Conway said the university is working on updating the master facilities plan in order to be sure the facilities send the message to prospective students that they will get a 21st century education at ECSU.

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