LUMBERTON — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is experiencing growing pains that began in 2018 with the inception of NC Promise, and campus leaders are working hard to ease the pain.
For the third year in a row UNCP leaders are reporting a fall semester enrollment record. The 2,932 new students who walked onto the campus in August brought enrollment to 8,262. Fall enrollment for 2019 was 7,698. Since the implementation of the NC Promise Tuition Program, the university has seen a 32% increase in overall enrollment. Enrollment was capped at 3,400 two decades ago.
“In the unprecedented times we’re experiencing, we’re pleased that more students than ever are choosing UNCP. Education will become even more critical in the future as our world continues to change. Our university will remain centered around the success of our students,” Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings said.
“Breaking our enrollment record for the third year in a row is a testament to the high-quality, affordable education offered at UNCP at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” he added.
And, NC Promise made each of the three campuses, UNCP, Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University, participating in the state-subsidized tuition reduction program a deal among North Carolina’s institutes of higher learning. The average tuition and fees of North Carolina colleges is $3,356 for in-state students and $10,842 for out-of-state students, according to collegetuitioncompare.com.
The state law that made NC Promise a reality set in-state tuition at $500 per semester beginning in the fall of 2018 and tuition for out-of-state students at $2,500 per semester at each of the participating schools. The law further mandates that “the State shall “buy down” the amount of any financial obligation resulting from the established tuition rate that may be incurred by Elizabeth City State University, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University.”
Room, board, and other student expenses remain the same
State lawmakers originally allocated $40 million from the state’s general fund to go to participating schools to make up any revenue lost from the tuition reduction in response to early concerns about the plan. Another $11 million was added after enrollment predictions were updated.
On June 26, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law legislation that provides $15 million for NC Promise.
With more students at UNCP comes the need to provide, parking, food and housing for a growing student body.
The campus has sold 1,152 parking permits for commuter students, according to information provided Tuesday by UNCP. That equates to a utilization rate of 87%. Resident students have bought 824 parking permits, for a utilization rate of 75%.
Utilization is applicable if everyone is on campus at the same time every day, according to UNCP’s Office of University Communications & Marketing. But such a situation would be highly unusual because of class scheduling and campus operations.
“Over the last year, the university has also added four new lots with more than 644 additional spaces, bringing the total number of spaces to 3,449,” said Jodi Phelps, chief Communications & Marketing officer.
Currently there are no plans to expand parking further, she said. But that could change as the situation warrants.
“All of UNCP’s student-oriented services, including dining and health-related services, have the ability to effectively serve students both on- and off-campus, Phelps said. “Additional resources, including staffing, have been provided to Student Health Services this year to respond to COVID-19. In addition, both SHS and Counseling and Psychological Services have virtual, telehealth options available 24/7 for students.”
Dining at UNCP is managed by Sodexo, and dining options on campus — eight in total including the dining hall — are currently meeting the demand of students, faculty and staff, according to the Communications office. Another dining option will be added when the James A. Thomas Hall, the new School of Business building, opens in the fall of 2021.
Current dining options include the dining hall, Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s, Einstein’s Bagels, Cafe 641, Braves Place, Starbucks, and the food truck on the Quad.
“Further growth and expansion of all university services and departments is carefully and strategically planned to grow with the expansion of the specific student population as appropriate and as funding is made available,” Phelps said. “In recent years, the university has made efficient use of available resources to leverage existing capacity to the fullest.”
The campus also has increased the number of instructors and supporting staff in order to best serve the burgeoning student body. In 2015 the full-time faculty totalled 297, and staff was 552. By 2020 those numbers had increased to 309 and 597. The university also employs about 120 adjunct faculty members.
“UNCP had plans to hire additional faculty in key areas and some staff positions to support enrollment growth in 2019. However, the state of North Carolina experienced a budget impasse because of a veto resulting in UNCP losing critical enrollment growth and NC Promise funding designated for these efforts in that academic year,” Phelps said. “Then, in early 2020, the state placed a hiring freeze due to COVID-19 on all state agencies further limiting our ability to add resources unless there were special circumstances, i.e. public safety or health care workers.”
Despite these constraints UNCP has made full use of all resources to meet student needs and keep its average class size to about 20 and to maintain a low faculty-to-student ratio, according to the Communications office.
“The current maximum capacity in campus housing is 2,333,” Phelps said. “Last fall, the university responded rapidly to the rising need for additional on-campus housing by adding 192 new beds in the university’s Courtyard Apartment Complex, one of UNCP’s two apartment-style campus housing complexes.”
There are no plans to expand on-campus housing at this time, she said.
The Town of Pembroke has stepped to help.
In the past five years, the Townhomes at Hunter’s Run, largely geared toward university faculty and staff when originally constructed, was built, Town Manger Tyler Thomas said. There are 10 individually owned town homes.
“A few other duplexes have been built with intent to offer to students, but the bulk of housing units are under construction now,” he said.
Three major projects currently are under construction, Thomas said. They are the AS Thomas Center, a mixed-use development that will offer at least nine residential apartments; the Pembroke Student Housing Development at Prospect and Cornith roads; and The Villages at Hunter’s Run Apartments, which is not being constructed exclusively for UNCP students, faculty and staff.
The increased number of students is a benefit to the town, the community and our county, not a problem,” Thomas said. “Vehicular congestion is an occasional issue, especially when exacerbated by the enormous amount of rail traffic in town, but the town is actively working on a variety of transportation initiatives to alleviate congestion.”
But enrollment growth at the NC Promise campuses may come from a small crowding-out effect, according to a March 2019 analysis by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a conservative nonprofit institute located in Raleigh. Three nearby UNC schools had drops in enrollment.
“UNC-Asheville was the hardest hit, losing slightly more than two percent compared to a year before, and East Carolina University and UNC Wilmington both shrunk by less than one percent. Those schools are roughly in the same regions as the NC Promise participants, with UNCA fewer than 60 miles from WCU, but proximity cannot be pinpointed as the cause for falling enrollment,” the analysis reads in part.
But, until information on the source of undergraduate transfers is available, it is unclear if students are choosing to attend NC Promise schools at the expense of other UNC schools, according to the analysis.
Information provided Tuesday by UNC-Wilmington shows undergraduate enrollment dropped from 14,502 in the fall of 2017 to 14,452 in the fall of 2018. But this drop was offset by an increase in graduate enrollment, 1,985 to 2,295. In the fall of 2019 undergraduate enrollment was 14,785 and 2,714 for graduate. In 2015 the numbers were 13,235 and 1,683.
Total student enrollment numbers from East Carolina University paint a slightly different picture.
In the fall of 2015, total student enrollment, undergraduate and graduate, stood at 28,289. Enrollment increased to 28,962 in 2016 and rose to 29,131 in 2017. In 2018, fall enrollment fell to 28,717. It fell again in 2019 to 28,651.
Western Carolina University did not provide enrollment numbers.
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