Prospective students learn more about East Carolina University during an admissions tour led by a Pirate Navigator.

The future of classes at East Carolina University is not set for the remainder of 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19. With a few incoming freshmen expressing their uneasiness about the fall 2020 semester, that uncertainty could possibly affect undergraduate enrollment rates.

Summer classes at ECU will be held online for both sessions but it remains unclear whether classes at ECU will return to on-campus, according to ECU’s summer school website. This may have students of the class of 2024 concerned that they might not have a normal first semester of college.

Ray Feliciano, admitted student of the class of 2024 is expecting to attend ECU this fall. He said he has already sent in his housing and enrollment deposits but remains concerned about the ability to step onto campus this fall.

“My main concern is will school even be open for us to go to in the fall; other than that, I don't really have any other concerns,” Feliciano said.

Feliciano said he thinks classes will go back to normal but not without some safety precautions for the students against COVID-19.

ECU has moved all classes to online settings with no face to face instructions for the rest of the spring 2020 semester and summer 2020, according to ECUs online classes website. The transition of online classes is because of social distancing requirements from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I definitely think there's going to be precautions but for the most part, I think everything will go back to normal. It’s already hard enough keeping people in quarantine, so when everyone is given the ‘all clear’ everyone’s going to be so ready to make plans and stuff,” Feliciano said.

Assistant Vice Chancellor, Stephanie Whaley, who is also the director of undergraduate admissions, said she noticed that prospective ECU students have been hesitant to enroll in college due to the uncertainty of the fall semester.

“We have; absolutely. That is certainly something we are experiencing here at ECU and I talked to my colleagues, admissions directors across the state and across the nation. That’s not unusual. Universities are experiencing that as a whole,” Whaley said.

ECU is not the only University that is experiencing lower enrollment rates and the COVID-19 outbreak has created some financial problems for some families, according to Whaley. She said herself and the admissions staff have found ways to make things financially easier for those who need help.

Whaley said the office of undergraduate admissions will continue to look at ways to give grace on the enrollment deposits to those with financial hardships. She said it will look at students’ FASFAs and determine if students are eligible for deferments or grace periods in the enrollment fee.

“One of the things that we are hearing from prospective students is their family members, their parents, their guardians even; they themselves are losing jobs right now or being furloughed and laid off temporarily. So one of the things that we’re doing is to work with those students that have a financial hardship to defer or delay their enrollment deposit, the $100 enrollment deposit. We look at their FAFSA data and that sort of thing. There's a process, a committee that reviews it,” Whaley said.

Optimistic that there will be on campus instruction in the fall, Whaley said she is preparing to bring in the usual amount of freshmen to ECU. She said ECUs first priority right now is to get back to normal in the fall with all of its students, including the freshman class.

“We want those who are ready to commit, they know they want to come to ECU, we want them to be able to go ahead and make that intent to enroll, to say ‘yes we’re coming’ even if they can't afford to pay that enrollment deposit right now,” Whaley said.

The Office of Admissions wants prospective students to be committed and be able to enroll in ECU, according to Whaley . She said because of the country being in a public health and economic predicament, ECU will offer support to those who are in a financial struggle.

Whaley said herself and the admissions staff have adjusted the requirements for enrollment. Along with financial aid assistance, admissions has now extended the due date for incoming freshmen to get their enrollment deposits in to give students a little bit more time to make their decision during this public health crisis, according to Whaley.

“What we have done as an admissions office and as a University is obviously we have recognized that, we’re all uncertain right now so we have actually extended our freshman deposit deadline. Typically that deadline is May 1, that's kind of the day which we ask new freshmen to kind of make a commitment, but we have now extended that to June 1 and that gives students more time; more to really figure out what the next step is for them,” Whaley said.

Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson said he hopes to have ECU back to regular instruction by this fall. He said himself and the rest of ECU will work hard to make sure students can come back to Greenville and have classes on campus.

Mitchelson said he believes it is important to self quarantine now so students can reap the benefits of being able to have social gatherings again and be normal again.

“We’re moving ahead like we will be back here under normal circumstances in the fall. That is my great hope. I'm confident that we’re working real hard to make that happen. All of this separation that we are experiencing right now is in fact an investment so that we can be normal in the fall. So I think the answer is yes, as I watch our country and our state and our religion devote itself to social distancing and separation. I think it meant we can come back in the fall under normal circumstances,” Mitchelson said.

Even during a pandemic, Mitchelson said he is making adjustments so he can still work to bring more students to ECU for when things go back to normal.

The student recruitment process is now operating online and will include admitted students day and orientation sessions throughout the summer, according to Mitchelson. He said ECU is currently having a record number of applications for the fall, even during the pandemic.

“We have a record number of applications and students admitted and now we’re trying to yield them. March 21 and 28 were supposed to be big days for us as we entertained thousands of prospective students and their parents and loved ones here on campus and those had to be cancelled back in March. Now we're doing this kind of work of yielding in a digital manner,” Mitchelson said.

Although it is not clear when ECU’s classes will return to a typical classroom setting, Mitchelson said he is optimistic for an eventual return.

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