CHAPEL HILL — Elizabeth City State University’s academic offerings will be downsized as the campus in northeastern North Carolina continues to cope with budget cuts and enrollment declines.
On Friday, the UNC Board of Governors voted to discontinue four degree programs – studio art, marine environmental science, physics and geology. The move will save $468,000 annually. The university had previously considered eliminating other degrees, including history and political science, which led to outcry from history faculty from around the state.
The UNC board also merged ECSU’s School of Arts and Humanities with the School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, creating one unit called the School of Arts and Sciences. That reduced administrative positions.
The campus has experienced a three-year slide in its student population and a budget shortfall of $5.5 million this year. The campus laid off 46 employees and eliminated 41 vacant positions, as enrollment plummeted 15.9 percent last fall.
UNC President Tom Ross said he expects a $5.5 million budget shortfall next year before the campus stabilizes its enrollment. That will mean more budget reductions.
A $5 million cut is a blow to a campus with a total budget of $35 million, Ross said. “The scale of this is significant,” he said.
Ross said the university’s interim chancellor, Charles Becton, is taking the steps to right-size Elizabeth City State, which last year saw a scandal in its police department when more than 125 criminal cases were not investigated. The police chief left, and the former chancellor abruptly retired.
The State Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry, and now the situation has been referred to the region’s district attorney, Ross said.
Ross said a number of strategies are underway to turn the campus around. The first order of business, he said, is to focus the university’s academic programs, with emphasis on particular strengths such as health care, aviation and education. The university is also putting more energy into fundraising from alumni and foundations, along with partnerships with the area community college and the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a base nearby.
“We have to forge public and private partnerships to make it work,” Becton said. “I’m pleased with our progress. There’s more work to be done.”
Ross told the board that some of the steps should have been taken in the past, but added: “I think we’re definitely on the right track.”
The university will soon launch a search for a permanent chancellor, Ross said.
That’s a sign that ECSU is not about to be closed or consolidated with another university – which had been rumored when some lawmakers suggested shuttering campuses.
The historically black university was founded in 1891 and has been an economic driver in a part of the state that struggles.
“It is really important to that region,” he said of the campus. “I don’t believe it has fully realized its potential for the region, but I think we’re at a point where the leadership of the institution is working hard to make the right changes.”