Enrollment at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke grew this fall as compared with a year ago by a population about the size of Rowland.
The addition of almost 900 students, 14 percent of the student body, is evidence that the state’s promise of bringing a quality college experience within reach of students who might otherwise have been denied has been well-received. It is also a testament to UNCP officials, primarily Chancellor Robin Cummings, who in 2016 did his homework when the NC Promise initiative was introduced, and secured promises that a reduction in tuition would not starve UNCP of revenue it needs to grow and thrive.
Western Carolina and Elizabeth City State University, like UNCP, signed up for the program, which provides $500 per-semester tuition to in-state students and $2,500 to out-of-state students, while also assuring them the cost will not go up while they are on campus.
Two universities, Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State, opted out, worried that it was a ploy by a Republican state senator to starve the colleges and shut the doors. We believe that the decision by Sen. Tom Apodaca, whose idea NC Promise was, to include his alma mater, Western Carolina, should have been sufficient to swat aside suspicions of ill intent. It apparently wasn’t. We hope that the door remains open for these universities to revisit their decisions. A lot of young people could benefit.
To be sure, the tuition drop isn’t the only reason more and more high school graduates are looking hard at UNCP. The university is on the verge of building a state-of-art business school, and is also establishing a College of Health Sciences, where badly needed providers will be educated to help meet a growing gap in health care in Southeastern North Carolina.
The influx should also help UNCP with its retention rate, which has lagged its sister institutions in the UNC System. The main reason is apparent: UNCP has drawn heavily from the local region, and many of its students have been non-traditional, attending college when they could afford to, but often leaving to go to work, and too often not returning and earning a degree.
UNCP officials say the retention rate is on the rise, and we expect more students with an interest in UNCP will quickly elevate the academic credentials of those arriving on the UNCP campus, which should improve the rate even more.
We plan a harder look at the numbers to see how many of those 885 are from Robeson County, but a sizable chunk will be, and we predict many of those will be minority and first-generation college students. Regardless, the benefits locally will be widespread. The university’s growth adds to its prestige, many of these students, whether they are local or not, will remain nearby when they graduate, perhaps working in our schools or hospitals, and they will all become ambassadors for Robeson County, which needs all it can get.
Additionally, there are the dollars-and-cents benefits as these students will live, eat and spend their dollars, adding millions and millions to the local economies, firstly Pembroke but outward from there to include Robeson and the region.
Cummings’ gamble, and it was a bit of one, has been validated as NC Promise has delivered on its first promise, which was to boost enrollment. We are excited to watch as this kept promise delivers in so many other life-enhancing ways.