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Pieces of Eight


 
Summer orientation provided opportunities to enroll a record number of incoming students in new text-messaging programs, which enhance existing emergency notification systems. The text messaging provides immediate notification via cell phone of campus emergencies. (Photo by Erica Plouffe Lazure)

25K Enrollment, Safety a Top Issue

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

East Carolina University welcomed approximately 25,100 students to campus this fall, its largest enrollment yet.

A record number of first-year students also have arrived on campus this fall. Projected enrollment figures are as high as 4,000 first-time freshmen. There are also 7,000 students taking distance education courses, 5,000 of whom will receive instruction completely off-campus. Final enrollment figures will be available after the close of the add/drop period, the 10th day of class, Sept. 1.

While East Carolina University has been bracing for its largest student enrollment population ever campus officials have spent much of the summer enhancing safety measures on campus. In addition to integrating comments from a student safety survey conducted in May, a new text-messaging system now enables students to register to receive emergency text messages on their cell phones.

Faculty members and staff will be able to register later this fall, after the implementation of Banner HR.

The new text-messaging program will add to ECU’s existing emergency notification system, which includes campus-wide email notification, web site updates, emergency hotline, and pop-up instant messages on PCs.

“We are always looking for ways to better serve our students,” said Marilyn Sheerer, ECU interim provost and vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. “This is an excellent way to communicate more quickly with them.”

Incidents that would trigger a text message being sent by university administrators include school closings, tornado warnings, flash flooding, evacuations, and campus lockdown or other safety situations.

In most cases, the text message will direct recipients to check their email or the ECU Alert web page for details.

“We know that there is no one means of communication that will guarantee that everyone receives an urgent message,” Sheerer said. “But text messaging will help us to communicate with the most people in the shortest amount of time.”

While text-messaging cell phones can be the fastest means of communication, the university cannot control when a cell phone service provider actually delivers the message. Tests of the system on campus have shown that message delivery time varies.

The results of the survey conducted this spring are helping ECU safety officials to create a safer and more stable campus environment. Michelle Lieberman, director of ECU’s Center for Off-Campus and Community Living, said the 3,917 survey responses she received from students last semester demonstrates a keen concern for safety on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.

Eighty-two percent of the respondents, who are of a demographic mix that correlates with ECU’s larger student body, said they had concerns about safety on campus.

The aim of the survey was to determine what student perceptions were about campus safety; their own efforts to be safe; and whether they knew of or utilize the campus’ safety resources, such as ECU’s Safe Ride; ECU Student Patrol; and the Blue Light phones.

“In some of the written responses, there were a lot of misperceptions, issues about safety and parking,” Lieberman said. “For example, a lot of respondents thought traffic and parking workers were police. They’re not.”

Lieberman said the results provide campus safety officials, police, and the surrounding community members with a good direction for its future programs and offerings. For example, more areas of campus have been illuminated; the Parking and Traffic staff have been issued different uniforms; students are now allowed to park on the main campus earlier (now 3 p.m. in many A1 lots, instead of 5 p.m.); more police officers are patrolling campus on bicycles.

Lieberman also distributed the student comments to campus and Greenville safety officials and they are working on responses to other concerns expressed in the survey.

Highlights of the survey findings are as follows:

• On-campus safety: 91 percent of respondents said they feel very or somewhat safe walking on campus during the day; 43 percent of respondents said they walk home alone at night often or sometimes on campus; 20 percent of respondents said they feel very or somewhat safe walking on campus at night.

• ECU Neighborhood safety: 27 percent of respondents said they walk alone at night off campus; 46 percent of respondents said they feel somewhat or very unsafe in the areas surrounding campus; 28 percent said they felt very or somewhat safe.
• Victims of crime: 5 percent of respondents (178 students) had been a victim of a crime while at ECU; 67 percent of these incidents occurred on campus.

• ECU’s safety transport services and patrols: 80 percent of respondents had heard about ECU’s safety escort services (such as Safe Ride and student patrol). 61 percent of respondents have never used these services; 28 percent have used it between one and five times. 38 percent of respondents said they had never seen a Student Patrol Officer on campus.

• Use of Drugs and alcohol: 55 percent of respondents believe that “some” of the campus crime occurs as a result of alcohol and drug use; 26 percent believe “most” crimes happen because of alcohol and drug use.

• Respondent profile: 82 percent of respondents are between the ages of 18 to 25; 79 percent were white; 10 percent were black; 2 percent of Spanish-speaking ethnicity; 3 percent Asian; 1 percent Native American; 4 percent other/multiracial. 25 percent of respondents were male. Students of all ranks (first year to graduate students) responded in relatively uniform numbers (ranging from 17 to 25 percent of correspondents); 75 percent of respondents live off-campus.

7/29/08
This page originally appeared in the August 24, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.