East Carolina University will be reducing its budget based on state-apportioned funds by $16 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year, largely due to a decline in enrollment from the previous year.
A letter from ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach, sent to The East Carolinian, said enrollment has fallen in ECU’s graduate school, while first year and transfer student numbers in the Fall 2018 semester were lower. He said these factors, along with students graduating from ECU on time, have led to a decrease in enrollment.
“We anticipate our first-year class for fall 2019 will be up from last year without lowering our admissions standards, but not enough to offset the record-setting number of Pirate graduates and continued challenges for graduate school and transfer student enrollments,” the letter said.
ECU will continue to work to partner with community colleges as part of their Pirate Promise and graduate school will be marketed more effectively. An Enrollment Management Task Force is making recommendations to help attract and retain students.
Gerlach said in the letter there are several steps he plans to put in motion to combat the challenges low enrollment numbers cause. He said these steps include a stronger focus on only projects which affect the health and safety of students and projects not related to the overall experience of students could be postponed.
“We cannot wait for this problem to solve itself, but hopefully by taking the time to plan for the reality, we can manage it smartly and thoughtfully while protecting the core mission,” Gerlach said.
According to Gerlach, he plans to continue advocating for more resources for ECU. He said North Carolina has historically been incredibly supportive of higher education and he supports a change in the NC enrollment-based formula for fund allocation.
Gerlach said he primarily wants to continue proving to outside sources that ECU is worthy of financial consideration, from corporations to foundations, to support more scholarship funds.
“Financial pressures are currently the leading reason why students who start at ECU do not finish their education,” Gerlach said in the letter. “We should develop strategies to address that shortfall.”
Gerlach said while the Brody School of Medicine and the Dental School will not be directly affected by the $16 million decrease, the internal steps towards improvement he mentioned in the letter will affect the two departments, along with ECU Physicians, dining, housing, parking, student affairs and athletics.
According to the letter, the UNC System is pushing to provide education for more rural and low-income students, and no other university in the system provides education for those students in as high a number as ECU. He said ECU provides higher completion and satisfaction rates for its students as well.
“ECU has faced enrollment declines before,” Gerlach said. “We’ve faced tough times before. Now we will face the current challenge head on and continue to serve those who choose to come and be part of Pirate Nation with excellence and passion. This storm is fleeting; Pirates are resilient.”