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ECU enrollment figures dip below expectations

GREENVILLE, NC   (Aug. 15, 2000)   —   Fall semester enrollment at East Carolina University will be about 17,850, the second-highest total in university history but slightly lower than officials had projected earlier this month.
In addition, more than 900 students are enrolled off-campus in distance-education courses, an increase of about 175 over this time last fall.
Preliminary figures, which reflect enrollment through the add-drop period this week, put on-campus enrollment about 2 percent below last year’s record of 18,222. ECU had expected a fall enrollment of about 18,500.
The incoming freshman class of about 3,100 students will have a record SAT average of 1030, up from last year’s average of 1016.
Dr. Robert J. Thompson, director of planning and institutional research, said this fall’s total reflects fewer-than-expected continuing freshmen and sophomores and fewer graduate students.
Graduate enrollments, which will be about 120 below last year’s 2,764, typically drop during an economic boom as individuals opt for employment opportunities rather than continuing their education. In addition, graduate enrollments for distance-education classes have increased, pulling from on-campus enrollments.
Thompson said a primary reason for the decline of continuing undergraduate students was the implementation of new academic performance standards last year.
The standards, which went into effect for freshmen during the l999 fall semester and for other students during the 2000 spring semester, require students to maintain higher grades to remain in good academic standing.
About 210 more undergraduate students were suspended at the end of the 2000 spring semester than would have been if the old suspension figures had been applied.
Thompson said that if the standards are effective in encouraging students to pay more attention to their academic work earlier in their careers, graduation rates should increase.
The enrollment dip because of the standards is a one-time decline and should not have a significant effect on the long-term growth of the university, he said.
University officials are surveying students who were expected to return but did not in order to determine any other reasons for the lower retention rate.
“No clear problems in getting classes, housing or financial aid seem to be present,” Thompson said. “We are analyzing the demographics of the students who did not return.”
He added, “We may be seeing the delayed effect of last year’s crowded classrooms that were a result of the record enrollment. The flood following Hurricane Floyd may also be a factor. The undergraduate student may have stuck it out for the year, but then decided to go elsewhere.”
ECU expects enrollment to grow by as much as 9,000 students over the next 10 years, and a director of enrollment management has been hired to coordinate recruitment, retention and financial aid efforts.
Thompson said the dip in enrollment does not lessen the need for new and modernized laboratory, classroom and office space on campus to accommodate the current student body and expected enrollment increases.
ECU would receive about $190 million of the $3.1 billion in higher education facilities bonds that are on the November ballot.
The No. 1 priority on the campus is the Science and Technology Building, which would provide a new home for the Department of Chemistry and the School of Industry and Technology. They are currently housed in the WPA-era Flanagan Building, which was last renovated in the 1960s.