The Elizabeth City-based Daily Advance reported on Aug. 11 that the three finalists for the post will be personally interviewed by system President Tom Ross before a decision is made.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we find a dynamic, transformational leader for that campus,” said John Fennebresque, the UNC Board of Governors chairman, in an interview.
ECSU faced the possibility of closure this summer when the N.C. Senate considered a budget proposal that would have required the UNC Board of Governors to study campuses with 20 percent or higher enrollment declines between 2010 and 2013 for potential closure. Enrollment at ECSU dropped by 26 percent during that time period.
The Legislative Black Caucus quickly decried the idea, and the provision was taken out in the final state budget — but the worry it sparked among the state’s HBCU advocates lingers.
Seven degree programs at ECSU, including history and political science, came up for discontinuation in 2013 .
But board members say fresh plans are in progress for ECSU, which has experienced the largest recent enrollment drop among the state’s public universities .
“It’s one of the biggest problems that we’re facing here in this board,” said board member Richard F. “Dick” Taylor at their meeting earlier this month.
Lower enrollment at the school has caused layoffs and the elimination of courses.
But ECSU is working to improve its Coast Guard recruitment program, Taylor said, which is one of its key roles in the region.
And Tiffany Jones, policy analyst at the Southern Education Foundation, said she thinks ECSU should look into more online programs.
“That market is growing in terms of black students,” she said, noting that the online-only University of Phoenix produces the largest number of minority college graduates nationwide.
Enrollment, however, is not the only financial issue for HBCUs, Jones said.
“There are much bigger issues happening at the state and federal level around funding,” Jones said, citing last year’s cuts to the federal PLUS loans program and land-grant university policies that make it optional for states to match federal funding levels for HBCUs but require it for other schools.
“It’s not that these specific policies were written to do harm,” she said. “What happens with broad policies is they have different impacts [on HBCUs] because of which communities HBCUs are trying to serve.”
Board member Marty Kotis III said engaging in discussion about the system’s structure and the campuses within it creates a healthy culture on the Board of Governors.
“Do we need a new campus somewhere else in the state? Do we need one less? I don’t know,” Kotis said. “I think we should be open to the idea of putting our resources where they can impact the most people.
“That’s just overall strategic thinking.”
Given that minorities now make up a majority of the K-12 student population, Jones said, HBCUs — and their accessibility as higher education institutions — are more important than ever.
Senior writer Lindsay Carbonell contributed reporting.