Grads excited for ECSU's future


Kalia Ross accepts her diploma from Chancellor Thomas Conway during Elizabeth City State University's fall commencement, Saturday. See more photos from graduation online at DailyAdvance.com.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Elizabeth City State University's latest graduates are looking forward to the future — for their alma mater as well as their futures.

At ECSU's 165th Commencement held Saturday morning, The Daily Advance asked graduates their perspective on the challenges the university has faced in recent years. Those challenges are well known, foremost among them being low enrollment. The student body has shrunk by more than half compared to 2010. The university also has faced a turnover in leadership — a problem slowed by Chancellor Thomas Conway, who has led ECSU for almost two years. Other challenges include a major loss of funding and intense scrutiny of its viability by state lawmakers, among others.

While those problems haven’t gone unnoticed, ECSU is starting to fix them, graduates pointed out Saturday. Enrollment grew this fall and is expected to surge in 2018. ECSU has earned legislative leaders' support and millions of dollars in new appropriations, and its accrediting body is satisfied again with its handling of enrollment and financial aid. 

Alexus Stephenson, an English major, welcomed those and other signs of progress for ECSU.

“I feel like it's on the rise,” she said, while standing in line before the start of Saturday’s graduation ceremony.

Stephenson attended ECSU for the last four years, meaning she saw some of the toll those challenges placed on the campus. She didn't lose faith, however, she explained.

“I feel like I had a mindset that I was going to stick with the university because I saw its potential,” she said.

Another English major, Zachary Singletary, welcomed the increase in students during his last semester.

“You can really see the campus coming back to life,” he said, adding he felt ECSU is in “good shape” now.

Biology majors Mia Gregg and Briana Griffin said they felt the university has improved in part because it's promoting itself better. There's more contact with students and much better use of social media, they explained. They said they're looking forward to seeing the university's continued progress.

Music Education major Travis Gatling also said he looked forward to ECSU's future. He credited the university’s improvements in recent years to the “dynamic leadership” of Conway and other university officials. Gatling also praised Conway for being accessible to him and other students; that access is one benefit of a smaller campus, he noted.

Over recent months, Conway and other ECSU leaders have touted several efforts to continue attracting students, including more visits to regional high schools and better followup with potential students, a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the campus's old, slow Internet network, and, in fall 2018, the launch of the “NC Promise” program. Made possible through special state funding, NC Promise will allow ECSU to discount tuition to just $500 a semester for in-state undergraduates.