Raleigh, N.C. — Rep. Annie Mobely, D-Hertford, is a graduate of Elizabeth City State University and now part of a group of lawmakers hoping to derail a budget provision that could lead to the school being closed.
"I know what I endured, having been a sharecropper's daughter," Mobely said Thursday. "Had I not been able to go to Elizabeth City, I'm not sure what would have happened to me or a number of others in our community."
A provision in the state Senate's budget says that the UNC Board of Governors shall study closing any institution that has seen its enrollment decline more than 20 percent between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2013.
"We know of one institution that fits that bill, and that's Elizabeth City (State) University," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.
The university, they said, is an economic driver in a historically poor part of the state and gives access to higher education to both young students and older workers who otherwise would not be able to go to college.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, the group of the black elected officials in the General Assembly, used a news conference to declare their support for ECSU. The Senate is scheduled to finish work on the budget later this week, and members of the black caucus said the House should abandon the provision when it starts work on its budget plan next week.
Senate budget writers say the university has been bleeding money, consistently eating up more resources per student than other institutions.
Paul Norman, vice chairman of ECSU's Board of Trustees, acknowledged the university had problems but is on the rebound.
"Elizabeth City State University is good for North Carolina and most especially Northeast North Carolina," Norman said.
He and members of the black caucus said that the provision targeting ECSU could be the first step on a slippery slope that leads to the consolidation and closure of other historically black colleges and universities in the University of North Carolina system.
In the meantime, they said, just talking about closing the university could bring about further enrollment drops.