ELIZABETH CITY – Things are looking up at Elizabeth City State University.
Over a six-year period from 2010 to 2016, the small HBCU in Northeastern North Carolina saw enrollment fall from more than 3,100 to 1,357.1 At one point in an early draft of the 2014-15 state budget, leaders in the NC Senate even proposed closing the school.2
“Negative news travels fast. There was essentially a loss of faith, if you will, in what the institution was doing by some major constituents,” ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway says in the accompanying video. “What we had to do was go in and start to talk to those folk about the good news.”
ECSU’s enrollment increased last fall for the first time in seven years.3
“This institution never stopped producing – there was always good news here, but it was being overshadowed by the bad news,” Conway says, highlighting the university’s unique and growing Aviation Science program and an effort to help “part-way-home” students complete their degrees.
“We’re looking at programs that fit the regional need,” he says.
Conway – who spent eight years at Fayetteville State University and 32 years in various positions at NC State – arrived as Elizabeth City’s chancellor in January 2016.4
“I had been watching the progress of this institution for decades. I saw an institution that was struggling to find itself again. I was fascinated by what I knew the institution could do,” he says.
“One of the things that I believe I’ve been able to do was help restore the belief of the constituents – the alumni, the students, the faculty – in the greatness that is resident here.”
Conway quotes a leader in the ECSU alumni association: “This is an institution that saves lives. This is an institution that has offered people opportunities when they really needed opportunities, and they’ve gone on to do remarkable things.”
UNC SYSTEM President Margaret Spellings is impressed with ECSU’s progress under Conway.
“I think we’ve turned the corner,” Spellings told a reporter during a recent visit.5
That doesn’t mean the work is done, though.
“There are a lot of great things happening at Elizabeth City State University and I am super-bullish on it,” Spellings says in the following video.
Spellings highlights how the NC Promise program will begin this fall at Elizabeth City, offering tuition of just $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 a semester for out-of-state students.
She notes Elizabeth City’s proximity to Southeastern Virginia.
“Elizabeth City State University will be more affordable for out-of-state students coming from Virginia than in-state institutions in Virginia,” she says. “Secondly, when we look at the numbers … applications for next year are up very significantly. So things are great.”
“Thomas Conway has been a terrific leader – he has given four decades of service to the University System, having been at NC State, Fayetteville and ending his career at Elizabeth City,” Spellings says.
“He’ll be retiring at the end of this academic year. And we have a terrific new leader in an interim capacity when he leaves, Dr. Karrie Dixon. He and she are working incredibly well together.”
DIXON will start June 1 as Interim Chancellor.
“What I’ll really bring to the community is that I’m a good listener,” Dixon says in the following video. “I hope to be able to build relationships, talk to the campus community, the surrounding citizens of Elizabeth City, and really see how we can strengthen our relationship.”