Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley says the costs associated with attending college are sky-high and students at Elizabeth City State University agree.
“College costs are astronomical,” Beasley said after attending an hour-long discussion with about 14 students Wednesday. Beasley, the former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court who’s running for the U.S. Senate, was on campus at the invitation of Jimmy Chambers, the ECSU Student Government Association president.
Beasley is among a handful of Democrats and Republicans vying for the seat that will be vacated by Sen. Richard Burr, who has elected to not seek re-election in 2022. Beasley lost her seat on the Supreme Court by a slim margin in the 2020 general election to current Chief Justice Paul Newby.
ECSU students who met with Beasley expressed concerns about the loan debt that follows many students long after they receive their diploma.
One student said she came from a small town and graduated from high school that had a class of about 30 students. Twenty-two of those students didn’t attend college and two others dropped out because of tuition costs, she said. The student continued by asking why place such an emphasis on young people earning a college degree when many can’t afford it.
“I don’t understand why it costs so much,” the student told Beasley.
The students praised ECSU for using federal COVID-19 relief funding to help cover the costs of tuition, textbooks and other college costs. The campus also used COVID funds to erase student debt.
“I wasn’t going to come back,” one student said of the campus’s decision. “It helped a lot.”
Another student said she knew two people who had considered dropping out, but after ECSU applied the federal funding to their accounts they decided they could still afford to stay enrolled.
ECSU announced last February that it had received $3.67 million in CARES Act funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The money would be used for student aid and institutional advancement. For example, students enrolled over the summer did not have to pay tuition on their first six credit hours. Before the start of this fall semester, ECSU announced because of CARES Act funding it was waiving the campus’s roughly $370 book rental fee.
Also of concern to some students is the lack of corporate businesses in northeastern North Carolina to provide them with internship opportunities. Students at universities near metropolitan areas, such as Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, which attract large corporations, have an advantage over ECSU students when it comes to landing internships, one student said.
Many of the students gave credit to ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon for bringing about several positive changes across the campus. One student said the student body has grown in the few years he’s been on campus.
“It’s just amazing seeking the growth,” he said.
Beasley thanked the students for meeting with her for the discussion. She also encouraged them to remember to vote in the Democratic primary next year.
“I do hope that you are engaged in the political process,” she said.
Chambers said after the discussion that he leapt at the opportunity to host a candidate for U.S. Senate for the “one-on-one connection.”
“It’s good for our students,” he said.
The students were not members of the Student Government Association. Chambers said he felt it was important that students not involved in the SGA to attend the discussion. All the students on campus come from different backgrounds and encouraging their interaction and sharing their ideas with one another is crucial to the learning experience, Chambers said.
“All of these students have a story,” he said.