ECU’s finances improved, board is told. ‘Pirate Nation’s future is looking bright.’

East Carolina University in Greenville.
East Carolina University in Greenville. Chris Seward

Financial conditions at East Carolina University have improved, so it won’t be necessary for the school to move $10 million from a physicians practice at the medical school to the athletics program, UNC System Interim President Bill Roper said Friday.

In his report to the Board of Governors at their meeting in Chapel Hill, Roper said, “Last year, many were concerned about East Carolina University’s enrollment and financial stability. I’m happy to report that these concerns have not been realized.”

Roper noted that while overall enrollment at ECU has remained flat, the number of freshmen is up this year by 4.6% and the number of transfer students bumped up slightly, by 0.6%.

“Things have also stabilized financially,” Roper said, noting that since Dan Gerlach took over as interim chancellor at ECU in May, he has been directly involved in approving how university money gets spent.

Roper said the school now has $231 million in its unrestricted cash fund. Clinton Carter, senior vice president of budget and finance for the UNC System, said that balance is down from more than $250 million last year, but he said the amount is sufficient.

In an interview outside the meeting, Gerlach said he now must sign off on all expenditures from ECU’s auxiliary accounts — not generated by student tuition payments — including receipts from ECU Physicians, part of Brody School of Medicine.

Dan Gerlach, interim chancellor of East Carolina University.
Dan Gerlach Golden LEAF Foundation

Gerlach said that instead of taking $10 million from the physicians practice, the university had used some of its cash reserves and hopes to use some from private fundraising for some improvements at the school that will help recruit student-athletes and make sure their training facilities are safe.

For instance, Gerlach said, ECU is getting a new football practice field and a batting cage.

ECU is an economic engine in Eastern North Carolina, from where it draws most of its students, and its medical school is a training ground for healthcare workers who often return to rural communities in the region.

Roper said ECU has paid down $20 million in debt and has reduced operating expenses by $16 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. In July, Roper said, Standard & Poor’s confirmed the university’s AA- stable credit rating.

“All this points to one clear and obvious takeaway: the Pirate Nation’s future is looking bright,” Roper told the Board of Governors.

Paid parental leave approved

In other business, the board approved paid parental leave for UNC System employees, matching the benefit provided to employees of state cabinet-level agencies. Gov. Roy Cooper gave those workers the benefit through an executive order earlier this year.

The board also approved a plan to create financial incentives for high-performing chancellors at UNC schools.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.