Students at ECU

Students of East Carolina University walk across main campus as they complete their academic courses for the fall of 2021.

East Carolina University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions will continue its efforts to recruit students into the university, as discussion at the Board of Trustees’ University Affairs Committee meeting on Sept. 9 shed light on the state of ECU’s enrollment rates. 

Interim Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Grant Hayes said ECU has seen an approximate 2.8% decline in total university enrollment, with around 28,005 enrolled students in fall 2021 compared to 28,798 students in fall 2020. 

Hayes said there are several reasons for a decline in enrollment, which include but are not limited to, greater competition between University of North Carolina (UNC) System Institutions and individuals choosing to attend community colleges rather than universities. He said ECU’s “finish in four” initiative has led to a decline in yearly total enrollment numbers as more undergraduate students are graduating in four years and spending less time at the university. 

“I think that some of the policies and procedures that were put in place to assist students, which in a way I agree with, in some ways, I think that really puts all of the institutions within the system (UNC System) in a very even playing field especially with the waving of the test requirement for admissions for first-year students,” Hayes said. 

Students who would typically apply to five higher education institutions, Hayes said, would most likely be accepted into two of the institutions they applied for. He said this past recruitment season, some students who applied to five or six institutions were accepted into all of them, which impacts the university’s efforts to guarantee enrollment to ECU. 

Hayes said the total enrollment of transfer-intended students has declined by 5% for fall 2021. He said some of ECU’s community college partners were hit with a large decline in enrollment numbers themselves. 

ECU’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions has strategized ways to recruit students to the university to increase enrollment numbers, Hayes said. He said the office may look to advertise to more international students and the “nontraditional” population of adult students. 

“This (increased enrollment numbers) is something that needs our particular attention and focus, moving forward of course it will,” Hayes said. 

Chancellor Philip Rogers said there is not a quick solution to increase university enrollment numbers. He said the looming enrollment cliff, which is a predicted nationwide drop in high school graduates in 2025, has caused a national drop in enrollment of 3.5% at higher education universities across the country. 

Community colleges across the nation have experienced a decline in enrollment numbers, Rogers said, so he is not surprised to see ECU experience a decline in transfer student enrollment for the fall. He said the Office of Undergraduate Admissions will have to take a serious look at the enrollment data to figure out strategies to boost numbers. 

Rogers said the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in enrollment numbers and ways ECU could recruit students. He said discussion has begun on online strategies and the possibility to have certain top programs offered completely online. 

“One of the things we’re going to have to do is take the data and dive into them a thousand times deeper, slice and dice this, disaggregate this into ways we can really laser focus and pinpoint where the specific areas are that we can tell a story around the decline,” Rogers said.

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