For much of the decade, N.C. Central University flung its doors wide open, welcoming scores of new students - prompted by a UNC system mandate to increase enrollment.
Problem was, those students weren't all ready for college. Plenty dropped out, leaving NCCU with a stain on its graduation rate data. From 2004 to 2008, just 18 percent of NCCU students graduated within four years. About 38 percent managed in five years, and about half did it in six years.
Now, university leaders are re-making the undergraduate academic experience with an eye towards shifting from the enrollment model from quantity to quality. They're slowing the enrollment growth, a move necessary in part because the campus infrastructure can't withstand continued expansion, and looking for ways to admit better students.
To that end, campus officials said Tuesday they are placing heavy emphases now on the recruitment of community college and distance education students, two populations that are generally highly motivated and don't tax the campus infrastructure.
"We have a finite number of residence halls on campus but we can get online students anywhere in the world," said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms. "They reduce your stress on residence halls, your [student building], your fitness centers."
Community college transfers graduate in higher numbers than traditional students, thus helping NCCU's overall graduate rate data.
While doing this, NCCU is also looking for ways to bring more student support to students arriving on campus without adequate study skills.
Much of the problem is societal, said Kevin Rome, NCCU's vice chancellor for student affairs. African-American male students, particularly those from low-income households, often staying in school, he noted.
"It's not what the institution is doing or not doing," Rome said Tuesday during a campus enrollment workshop. "We know those students can be successful, but it takes a lot more effort."
Read more on this issue in Saturday's Durham News.