ECU delivers positive ROI

University of North Carolina System institutions, including East Carolina University, offer a superb return on investment for students who complete their bachelor’s and graduate degrees.

ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers delivers his remarks to the Board of Trustees.

That was the message from Andrew Kelly, senior vice president for strategy and policy with the UNC System, during a joint session Thursday of the Strategy and Innovation and University Affairs committees of the ECU Board of Trustees during its regular February meeting.

Of the undergraduate programs at ECU, 96% have a positive return on investment, as do 92% of graduate programs, according to a report of UNC System and the professional services firm Deloitte, compiled under the direction of the N.C. General Assembly. The report looked at whether going to college was still worth it. A March 2023 survey by the Wall Street Journal and the University of Chicago showed 56% of respondents said no, especially considering the amount of debt some students take on.

“It’s important we review our data and results to ensure our institutions are producing favorable outcomes,” Kelly said.

Since 1990, tuition and fees at public universities have tripled, while wages for recent college graduates have remained flat, according to the College Board’s 2022 “Trends in College Pricing” report, which Kelly cited.

Nevertheless, he pointed out, people with bachelor’s degrees over their lifetimes earn approximately $900,000-$1 million more than those with just a high school diploma, though that figure drops after accounting for costs associated with completing a bachelor’s degree.

At the other end are students who take out loans but don’t finish their degrees. Kelly said their wages are hardly better than those of high school grads, but they have debt to repay.

The degree one receives makes a difference, Kelly said. Fortunately, some of ECU’s strongest programs, such as nursing and engineering, are those with the highest ROI. ECU, he said, is “an exceptional value for students and return on investment.”

Overall, ECU graduates on average net about a half-million dollars more over their career than high school graduates. That’s also slightly higher than UNC System institutions as a whole.

The next challenge, he said, is deciphering how to make degree programs with lower returns more successful. One way might be to shorten the time it takes to earn one of those degrees, thereby reducing expenses and getting graduates into the workforce sooner.

“The leading institutions are going to be the ones that figure that out,” he said.

Kelly also noted the proportion of students relying on loans to pay for college has dropped, possibly because students are choosing to go straight into the workforce rather than continuing their education. However, when comparing students who try to work their way through college to those who take out loans to pay for it, the completion rate is higher for those who take out loans, he said.

“They can focus more on their schoolwork” rather than how to pay for it, he said.

The UNC Board of Governors will present the final report to the General Assembly by April 24.

Chancellor Philip Rogers referenced Kelly’s presentation in his remarks to the board on Friday and added that 90% of low-income graduates from ECU experience upward economic mobility and nearly 90% of graduates are either employed or enrolled in an advanced degree program within six months of graduation.

Rogers said that student return on investment is one part of the bigger academic planning puzzle.

“Student ROI, while important, is just one metric as we think about the broader landscape,” said Rogers. “The institutional costs to deliver programs, the relevance and market demand for programs and credentials, student credit hour production, and the evolving workforce needs are all important factors as well.”

In remarks to the board, Student Government Association president Javier Limon mentioned ongoing SGA elections and that the board would be introduced to his successor at the next meeting in April.

During the meeting, trustees unanimously approved CPL Architects and Engineers of Raleigh and Charlotte as the design firm for a new ECU Health Medical Examiner Complex. A total of $35 million in state funding was approved by legislators in October for the facility.

In other action, the board approved the following in its consent agenda on Friday:

  • Conferral of tenure for Dr. Chad Morris, Department of Anthropology.
  • The naming of the Long Family Gate at Clark LeClair Stadium.
  • The naming of Paradossi Gate at Clark LeClair Stadium.
  • The naming of McShane Courtyard at the Brewster Building.
  • A nonsalary compensation plan for athletics presented to the Athletics and Advancement Committee by Gilbert.

On Thursday, members of the Audit, Risk Management, Compliance and Ethics Committee received an update on the state’s new sports gambling law that goes into effect on March 11.

Alex Keddie, senior associate athletics director for compliance, told members that NCAA regulations that prohibit gambling on any sport sponsored by the NCAA by student-athletes, athletics staff and coaches have not changed. However, she said the compliance office has stepped up its efforts to inform student-athletes because “it’s so simple to gamble” through phone apps.

She also stressed that athletics personnel and athletes are prohibited from providing information — such as an injury update or who may start a particular game — to those involved in gambling.

“We are educating and educating and educating like we’ve always done,” Keddie said. “… We’re hitting them every week.”

The Athletics and Advancement Committee discussed the importance of philanthropic support for scholarships and efforts to keep ECU competitive in the higher education landscape in admission and retention scholarships.

Vice Chancellor for Advancement Christopher Dyba told the committee that $184 million in scholarship funding, raised during the Pursue Gold campaign, has created 572 new scholarships. Dyba highlighted that the university awarded 3,000 merit and need-based scholarships this year.

The committee discussed the idea of establishing a pool of resources to be used in admissions to help make ECU affordable and more accessible to students.

Athletic Director Jon Gilbert reported that ECU’s student athletes earned a 3.25 GPA average for the fall semester and that 70% of student athletes have a 3.0 GPA or higher.

Gilbert also updated the committee on the Pirates Unite Campaign, which has raised $28.5 million in pledges and commitments in the past 19 months.

Athletics recorded record season ticket sales and renewals for football. Pirate Club Pledge Day brought $2.5 million in Pirate Club renewals and new memberships. Gilbert said season tickets for ECU baseball were sold out for this season.

The Budget, Finance and Infrastructure Committee received an update from Stephanie Coleman, vice chancellor for administration and finance, on 2023 finances in preparation for budget planning for the coming fiscal year. In 2023, ECU’s total revenues were $1.084 billion and total expenses were $906.3 million. Coleman also shared a financial sustainability assessment tool that will provide qualitative and quantitative metrics designed to track and assess four categories: enrollment and admissions; retention and completion; financial and fiscal data; and workforce.

In addition to the the presentation by Kelly, Sharon Paynter, acting chief research and engagement officer, spoke to the Strategy and Innovation and University Affairs committees about technology transfer at ECU and the benefits that NCInnovation will bring in that area. ECU is the hub institution for NCInnovation’s east region, and ECU graduate Kelly King chairs the NCInnovation board. Paynter noted that North Carolina ranks second in the nation in terms of federal funding for research and development at universities and industries, but only 20th in total innovation.

“Technology transfer creates new jobs and economic growth,” Paynter said.