How a local HBCU prioritizes student success and wellness

Through personal, professional and financial support, Elizabeth City State University prioritizes student success on all levels.

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Abbey Slattery
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, MyFutureNC.
HBCUs, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, are schools that were founded to primarily serve Black Americans. While HBCUs only make up an estimated 3% of colleges and universities in the country, around 10% of all Black students are enrolled in one, and they produce 44% of all Black 4-year North Carolina college graduates.

North Carolina is ranked second in the country for the number of HBCUs in the state, with ten institutions — including Elizabeth City State University in Eastern North Carolina. Founded in 1891, ECSU has positioned itself as a supportive environment for all students.

“We have three central focus areas for our student success: how well a student does in the classroom, the outcomes for that student as they graduate from the institution, and how much they feel like they’re part of the Viking family here at ECSU,” said Gary L. Brown, vice chancellor for Student Affairs at ECSU. “We have a variety of resources and have focused heavily on ensuring that our resources are responsive to the trends that exist across higher education. Here at our university, wellbeing is one aspect of that.”

One of ECSU’s methods for promoting student well-being is by offering comprehensive counseling services. The school has added personnel to the counseling staff and makes the services available at all times — even in between terms.

Another aspect of student well-being comes from affordability. ECSU participates in the NC Promise Tuition Plan, a statewide initiative that aims to make higher education more accessible by reducing costs. For students who fill out the FAFSA and qualify, tuition can even be free of cost.

“We try our very best to ensure that our students are supported financially, which is why the NC Promise program is such a benefit to us, our students, and this region. The program really defrays the cost of attending college and makes it attainable for so many,” said Brown. “The Promise has basically lowered tuition for in-state students to $500 per semester. For out-of-state students, it lowers their intuition to $2,500 per semester. It's a tremendous program that has been incredibly successful here at ECSU, and we are really excited about being a part of it.”

In addition to NC Promise, ECSU itself has a number of financial aid programs available for students. These programs not only help with the cost of school but also address the personal and professional needs of students.

“In the midst of COVID, we have seen quite a bit of need amongst our student body. We have a strong student assistance fund process that we provide for students who have emergencies that might arise. That could even mean that someone may have passed away in their family, and they need a way to get back to their family so they can be there for the services,” said Brown. “Another way we support students is through the Career Closet, where students can go and get professional business attire for a job they’ve garnered or are pursuing. We try to meet the students' holistic needs at ECSU — that's a hallmark of what it is that we do.”

As an HBCU, the school offers another layer of support and familiarity, and all levels of staff and faculty are invested in student success.

“If you went to campus and asked students what they like best about ECSU, they'll tell you that it feels like a family. There's a level of investment here at our institution that almost transcends positions and roles — from upper levels of administration and the chancellor to our housekeepers and maintenance professionals, everyone has a level of investment here in the success of the students who walk these halls and attend classes,” said Brown. “It's a family environment and that family environment facilitates the development of relationships between students and those who work here. Students navigate the institution and thrive, because they know that there are a number of people who are invested in their success.”

“I worked at another HBCU prior to coming here, and there are similarities between both of the institutions that I've worked. But here at ECSU, there's a feeling that is just second to none — it’s special,” he finished.

Moving forward, Brown shared plans to build a new residence hall and a new dining system on campus, which he sees as a benefit to both the campus and the region in general — with the latter bringing employment opportunities for the students and the community.

Other initiatives include looking at the needs of adult learners and leveraging the school’s coastal location to provide educational opportunities for military members.

“We're always in a state of assessment in terms of what we're doing, how we're doing it and trying to better the experience for our students — because we believe our students deserve that,” said Brown. “That is also part of what I believe sets this institution apart from so many others. We don't want to become stagnant and be offering the same things that we always have. We want to continue to push and make sure the students recognize just how great of a place ECSU is.”

This article was written for our sponsor, MyFutureNC.


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