Enrollment decline to force layoffs at ECSU

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 02:54 PM

Facing a $5 million budget shortfall, Elizabeth City State University will soon be hit with “significant” layoffs, UNC system President Tom Ross said on Friday.

Ross said the campus will learn within 10 days how many people will lose their jobs.

“I think it will be a significant number, particularly in comparison to the overall employment at the university,” Ross said. 

Such a large chunk of the school’s budget tied up in personnel costs, Ross said, that it would be difficult to manage the budget shortfall without layoffs.

ECSU’s budget shortfall is driven by decreased enrollment and state budget cuts.

Interim Chancellor Charles Becton, who served as interim chancellor at N.C. Central University in Durham last year, has reported that enrollment at the small historically black college in the northeastern corner of the state is just over 2,400 this fall, about 100 short of 2,500 students the school had hoped to enroll.

Enrollment declines at the state’s six historically minority institutions were a major focus of this week’s Board of Governors meeting.

The board received a staff report recommending that the system’s 18 percent cap on out of state students be raised to 30 percent at schools with predominant minority enrollments in an effort to boost enrollment. 

The proposal received a lukewarm reception from the board, some of who wondered whether it’s time to have a discussion about consolidating schools that are struggling to meet enrollment and other goals.

The six historically minority institutions with predominantly African-American and Native American students are ECSU, Fayetteville State University, N.C. A&T University, N.C. Central University, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University.  
This academic year, five of the six schools suffered heavy budgetary losses ranging from $643,935 at Fayetteville State to $6.3 million at N.C. A&T as a result of enrollment declines.
The lone exception was NCCU, which received a $734,261 enrollment growth appropriation.

Ross acknowledged that some schools are struggling, but believes that the trouble is short term.

He attributes enrollment decreases at some schools to the weak economy, which put college out of reach for some, a flattening of the number of people coming out of high school and higher admission standards needed to attract higher quality students to improve degree efficiency.

“It’s a transition time,” Ross said. “Any time you go through the kind of economy we have in the last five years, you’re going to see some rough spots and that’s where we are right now.”

At ECSU, Ross said, the decrease in enrollment was a major cause of the budget shortfall.

“Elizabeth City has a confluence of issues that are driving a budget shortfall, probably the major one is a drop in enrollment,” Ross said. “What we are working with the campus to do is to address short-term budget shortfalls and will be doing that over the next few weeks, and the following that is to look at long term solutions.”

He said that includes thinking through the particular expertise the campus might have, such as the school’s aviation program, to take advantage of a projected shortage of air traffic controllers as its workforce reaches retirement age.