There were rumblings in the General Assembly, driven by Republican lawmakers, that the declining enrollment and management problems at Elizabeth City State University might warrant closing it. That was averted, but now comes an internal audit showing all sorts of disturbing problems: unqualified students being admitted and given thousands of dollars in financial aid; failure of admissions office staffers to verify high school transcripts; student files not stored properly.
A chancellor, Stacey Franklin Jones, resigned in December, and other universities came in to help. But ECSU’s enrollment is down sharply and a smaller percentage of students being admitted are enrolling.
So lawmakers are certain to ask if the school, one of five historically black institutions in the UNC system, should be closed. The state cannot pour money into an institution that seems in a perpetual struggle.
UNC officials would do well at this point to look not at closing, but at changes in direction to keep this institution, in an isolated part of northeastern North Carolina, open and serving the people. That could mean refocusing its mission from one of general education to something more specialized such as training in health care or computers or other technical specialties. ECSU, after all, is an important employer in the area, and its facilities are of value.
There is, surely, a way for ECSU to serve the public, as it is intended to do. Thinking outside the box a little, beyond the traditional university mission, would be of no harm and might provide a path to a productive future.