ECSU trustees OK 'growth funding' in $40.6M budget


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Elizabeth City State University's Board of Trustees approved a $40.6 million budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2019-20 that includes $1.8 million in "growth funding" not yet allocated by the state General Assembly.

Trustees' unanimous vote for next year's budget actually marked a departure from past practice. In previous years, trustees have been informed of the university's budget by ECSU administrators but not taken a formal vote on the spending plan.

The change comes after ECSU's accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, indicated in its latest review of the university's operations that it wants trustees to formally approve ECSU's budget, Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Josh Lassiter said.

Lassiter advised trustees that the budget includes roughly $1.8 million in spending that currently has not been funded by the General Assembly, since lawmakers have not yet adopted a budget. Each chamber of the Legislature has adopted its version of next year's state spending plan, but as yet no joint budget has been approved by both chambers and sent to the governor for his signature.

Lassiter told trustees that the university needs the $1.8 million in the budget in order to accommodate a projected enrollment of 1,800 students in the 2019-20 academic year. ECSU envisions using the money to fund rapid growth in the aviation science program as well as to hire additional faculty to accommodate the expected increase in student enrollment.

More than half of the $1.8 million would pay to continue academic advising positions and pay for aviation science upgrades and other items that were previously funded by $4.8 million in one-time stabilization funds from the General Assembly. Those items are now becoming recurring items in the university's budget.

Lassiter acknowledged there are risks involved in budgeting for the $1.8 million without any guarantee it will be included in the final state budget. But there is also a risk in not taking the actions necessary to accommodate enrollment growth, he said. It's necessary to prepare for the number of students you expect — you don't want a class without a teacher, for instance, Lassiter said.

Asked by some trustees about the worst-case scenario if the $1.8 million isn't included in the final state budget, Lassiter said it could force him to revise ECSU's budget in the fall and delete some items.

Both the Senate and the House versions of next year's state budget include elements that would be favorable to the budget outlook at ECSU. The Senate is budgeting growth in the NC Promise program while the House allows the university to budget for projected enrollment rather than receiving funding after the fact based on actual enrollment growth.

Lassiter said ECSU really needs both provisions, which is what the $40.6 million budget is based on.

Chancellor Karrie Dixon added that the University of North Carolina System office also understands the need for ECSU to have funds to accommodate enrollment growth.

As trustees were discussing enrollment growth and how it's related partly to a deep tuition discount under the NC Promise program, Trustee Jan King Robinson asked if anyone knew how long NC Promise would be available.

Lassiter said the tuition discount program really is funded from year to year, but he noted the Senate has adopted a tentative plan that calls for funding and projected growth of NC Promise over a five-year period.

Board of Trustees Chairman Harold Barnes said ECSU really needs NC Promise long enough to achieve a level of excellence where it will become a "magnet" for students. The program might not be necessary after that, he said.