Steinburg: Change ECSU name to UNC-EChttp://www.dailyadvance.com/node/2801031
By Jon Hawley
The Daily Advance
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor in the 1st House District, state Rep. Bob Steinburg last week called on Elizabeth City State University to change its name to prominently feature its affiliation with the University of North Carolina.
Meeting with Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County officials on Friday, Steinburg, R-Chowan, said ECSU could rebrand itself the University of North Carolina at Elizabeth City
as a way to reverse dwindling enrollment.
Steinburg acknowledged changing ECSU’s name is a “delicate” subject because it’s tied to ECSU’s history and identity. According to ECSU’s website, the nearly 124-year-old historically black university has been called ECSU since July 1, 1969. But Steinburg said ECSU’s changing its name to UNC-Elizabeth City would help show it understands its market. He said ECSU is perceived now as a primarily black university, limiting its appeal to its 21-county service area that is majority white.
“We can’t look at this university and say, 'this is our black university;’ this is our university, this is (everyone’s) university,” Steinburg said.
ECSU’s enrollment has dropped by almost half since 2010, going from more than 3,300 to just 1,701 this spring semester. According to UNC data from fall 2011 to fall 2014, the enrollment decline has been across all racial and ethnic categories. At the same time, however, ECSU’s percentages of black and white students — 73 percent and 15 percent, respectively — have remained near constant every year. Approximately 10 percent of ECSU students didn’t share their race or ethnicity with the university.
Steinburg said ECSU needs to leverage the University of North Carolina name to appeal to more students. The UNC name carries great prestige nationwide, Steinburg said, and many students “would love to have UNC on their diplomas.”
While prestige is hard to quantify, “U.S. News and World Report” magazine’s 2014 rankings of higher education institutions have a number of UNC schools in their top 10 lists for publicly funded universities. Several other UNC campuses ranked high in other categories without “UNC” in their name.
ECSU, for example, ranked second-highest in the report among regional colleges in the southeastern U.S. Appalachian State University ranked third and Western Carolina University, meanwhile, ranked 15th among regional universities. The rankings categorized colleges and universities according to the levels of degrees they offer. The idea of changing ECSU’s name to promote its status as one of 16 UNC campuses isn’t new. In fact, it’s been talked about in the Elizabeth City area for more than 20 years.
The idea most recently came up when Steinburg’s predecessor in the 1st House District, former state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, pitched it in 2009 to ECSU’s Board of Trustees. Owens made many of the same arguments Steinburg is making now. ECSU trustees, however, ultimately decided against the change.
The name-change issue reemerged Friday during city and county leaders’ wide-ranging discussion on local government concerns with Steinburg and fellow lawmakers state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and state Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford. City officials urged all three legislators to support an additional $6 million in special appropriations for ECSU over two years to cover revenues lost to declining enrollment.
All three lawmakers said they support the additional funding for ECSU, but Steinburg said the university’s position is increasingly untenable.
“Treading water is very, very dangerous,” Steinburg told city and county leaders. “We don’t have that luxury.” Steinburg conceded including UNC in its name is “not the end all, be all” solution to ECSU’s challenges. But he urged city and county officials to support whatever is necessary to save the university.
Cook didn’t respond to Steinburg’s suggestions on the name change Friday, but he opposed the idea last summer. Hunter is also opposed to changing ECSU’s name, saying he disagreed with Steinburg’s assertion that the university doesn’t appeal to non-black students. He also said the General Assembly needs to give ECSU and its new chancellor, Dr. Stacey Franklin Jones, more time to turn the campus around.
ECSU officials have attributed ECSU’s declining enrollment to increased testing and higher admission standards and other factors not related to a lack of appeal to white students. ECSU has also taken numerous steps since 2013 to grow enrollment and control costs.
Recent enrollment-boosting efforts include: spending $28,600 on remarketing efforts, notably rebranding ECSU with a large, blue capital “E;” establishing a dual enrollment program with College of The Albemarle, allowing students with low GPAs another way to take ECSU courses; and pushing UNC to allow discounted “border tuition” rates to nearby Virginia residents.
Some cost-cutting moves include laying off more than 80 employees (including three deans), eliminating low-enrollment courses like physics and geology, and consolidating two of its four schools into one.