Growth may cap ECSU flight education program


By Paul Nielsen
Staff Writer

Friday, November 8, 2019

Without more funding, continued enrollment growth at Elizabeth City State University could require capping a division of the university’s popular aviation science program.

That’s according to ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon, who gave an update on the university to the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners at its finance committee meeting earlier this week.

With 1,773 students now on campus, overall enrollment at ECSU this year is up 5.7 percent over the 2018-19 academic year. While that’s still below ECSU’s all-time high of 3,500 students, Dixon said the increase may force the university to cap the aviation science program’s flight education track at some point down the road.

ECSU has the only four-year collegiate aviation education program in the state but high demand for the program’s flight education track, coupled with limited infrastructure, is putting a strain on the program. Dixon said other disciplines in the aviation science program — air traffic control, avionics and aviation management — are also popular but still have plenty of room for growth. The university has recently seen a 49 percent increase in enrollment in the aviation programs.

ECSU currently has 11 airplanes for the 100 students enrolled in flight education to use, but limited runway and hangar accessibility is hampering the program, Dixon said. A major goal is acquiring funding to reopen runway 1-19 at the Elizabeth City Regional Airport, which was closed several years ago, and acquiring additional hangar space.

“I’m trying to convince the state that this is an opportunity for an investment in a program that no one else has in North Carolina,” Dixon said of getting more funds for aviation science. “To continue to get their (lawmakers’) support to funnel funding here so we are able to grow our aviation program is something I want to continue to advocate.”

ECSU is also in line to receive almost $35 million in state funding for two projects that Dixon also said will spur growth on campus. The money is included in the state budget the General Assembly approved in June. However, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the spending plan after objecting to its lack of funding to expand Medicaid. Cooper was also unhappy with the budget’s level of funding for education.

The Republican-controlled House mounted a successful override of Cooper’s veto but the GOP-controlled Senate has yet to attempt a similar override.

The proposed budget includes $32 million for a new library on campus and $2.5 million that will go toward the cost of a new SBI crime lab at ECSU.

“We are close to getting them funded and we are hopeful they will get funded at some point,” Dixon said, referring to the library and crime lab.

The proposed library would serve as a regional facility equipped with top-level technology. ECSU officials have already been in contact with officials at the James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University about the new library’s design, Dixon said.

“They are very, very excited about possibly helping us design this library,” Dixon said. “Hunt is recognized as being one of the top five libraries in the country. They will help us shape what this looks like if we are able to get funding.”

Dixon also told commissioners that ECSU’s Criminal Justice Department would benefit greatly if a crime lab is established on campus. Dixon said criminal justice was one of several ECSU programs that suffered when there was talk of shutting down the university in 2014.

“If we are able to get this crime lab, I see criminal justice just exploding with the number of students that would be interested,” Dixon said. “We are trying to get that program back up and running and I think the crime lab will help that.”

ECSU also has plenty of open land for future growth, Dixon said. Commissioners were shown an aerial view of campus that highlighted available acreage, including one 69-acre tract.

“When we think about economic impact, when we think about economic development, when we think about the future, there are opportunities for growth on our campus and partnerships with business and industry,” Dixon said. “You don’t see many UNC campuses having this amount of available land. This is very unique. Other UNC campuses are trying their best to buy land. We have it right here, we just haven’t invested in it enough to be as visionary as we can be in our partnerships with business and industry for growth.’’

Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Dixon praised the chancellor for the progress being made at ECSU.

“It has amazed me how you have transformed that campus,” he said. “It really makes you feel good when you go on that campus.”