The state Senate’s approved version of next year’s budget includes nearly $5 million in additional funding for Elizabeth City State University over the next two years as a way to shore up sagging enrollment.
Information provided by the office of Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, indicated the Senate budget includes an additional $2.8 million for 2017-18 "to help stabilize enrollment" and an additional $2 million for 2018-19.
The additional $2.8 million in the upcoming fiscal year would bring state funding for ECSU to $32 million a year and would make the actual ECSU budget — including receipts that aren't part of the state budget — about $37.9 million.
One of the purposes for the additional funds is to enable the university to attract top-tier faculty, according to ECSU officials. The funds also will allow additional investment in aviation science, which has become a marquee program for the university as the only four-year aviation science program in North Carolina.
Part of the state funding also will be used to hire employees to work in the areas of admissions, student retention and student success.
Jordan Hennessy, a legislative aide to Cook, whose district includes Pasquotank, Perquimans, Camden and Currituck counties, said all of those areas the money will be used for are intended to remedy the university's lagging enrollment.
As noted by Moody's Investors Service’s announcement last week that it was downgrading ECSU's bond rating, ECSU's full-time equivalency enrollment of 1,292 in the fall of 2016 was 14 percent less than the previous fall and only about half of the university’s fall 2012 enrollment.
The state's N.C. Promise plan, which would lower in-state tuition at ECSU to $1,000 a year beginning in the fall of 2018, is expected to help ease ECSU's enrollment woes.
Even before that tuition decrease takes effect, though, ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway says he’s "cautiously optimistic" the university will see a significant increase in new freshman enrollment this fall.
Conway bases that assessment partly on what he called "structural changes" in the admissions process. The changes include a different recruitment plan, quicker response to students who have applied to the university, and more frequent contact with applicants.
The assessment also is based on the number of offers of admission made in response to student applications. University officials have projected first-time freshmen enrollment for this fall at 322 — nearly three-fifths more than the fall 2016 first-time freshmen enrollment number of 203.