ECSU gets $50K grant, forms task force on supporting older students

Elizabeth City State University is using a $50,000 grant from the UNC System to revamp how they appeal to and support older students finishing their degrees.

The smallest of the UNC System’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), ECSU already has a significant number of undergraduate students outside the traditional 18-21 age range – about 28 percent. Nationwide, the number of what higher education circles refer to as “adult learners” has been going up due to an aging population and a decreasing number of traditional, full-time students. ECSU says its experience is in line with national data over the last five years showing that nearly half of those older students don’t complete their degrees.

Elizabeth City State University.

The $50,000 grant, made possible through funds awarded to the UNC system by the Lumina Foundation, will fund a 10-month task force project that will examine how to provide after-hours support services to older students and the best ways of sharing financial aid and scholarship information to help students finish their degrees.  Last year, Lumina awarded ECSU $175,000 as part of its HBCU Adult Learner Initiative.

Dr. Trina Gregory of the university’s Distance Education office will lead the effort, which will include focus groups with administrators and faculty who teach online degree programs.

“While ECSU offers numerous services to assist adult learners, the goal of our task force is to expand programs and develop initiatives to strategically support adult students when they need it, how they need it,” Gregory said in a statement on the initiative Thursday. “Using student feedback, we will enhance our efforts to increase access to support resources to lead our adult learners down the path to success.”

ECSU has seen the same recent bump in enrollment enjoyed by most of the system’s HBCUs. Elizabeth City State’s fall 2021 enrollment was up 2.6% to 2,054, the largest enrollment the school has seen since 2013. But that’s still far from its peak of about 3,000 students.

The university recently announced $1,000 housing grants for on-campus students in the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters.

As Policy Watch reported earlier this month, the UNC Board of Governors recently voted to raise the cap on out-of-state admissions at three of the five HBCUs in the UNC System, ECUS among them.

To ensure qualified North Carolinians can receive the greatest benefit from UNC System schools, out-of-state admissions at most campuses are currently capped at 18%. Schools can be penalized if they admit a higher percentage of incoming first-year students from out of state. (The NC School of the Arts and the School of Science and Math have a different cap because they are specialized schools.) Last year, the system’s board of governors raised the cap at system HBCUs to 25 percent.

Earlier this month, the board approved raising the cap to 35% at N.C. A&T and North Carolina Central University and to 50 percent at ECSU. The cap at Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University will remain at 25%.

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ECSU gets $50K grant, forms task force on supporting older students