Dornisha Cherry had four children and a career in childcare before she stepped foot on the Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) campus. She had already earned several associate degrees as well. Although she had done her own research on ECSU, it was her boss who convinced her to take her educational pursuits to another level.

“My boss encouraged me to go higher and reach for a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “After doing my research about the cost, commuting and positive aspects of the teachers program here, I was convinced that this was the best place for me.”

Cherry, 36, is a now a junior, Birth Through Kindergarten major. And, her daughter, Melanie Weston, followed in her footsteps and started her first year at ECSU in the fall.

“I chose ECSU based on my personal goals and expectations," Weston said. "However, (my mom) did have an impact by bringing me to the orientation and Fall Open House.”

Traditional aged college students like Weston, usually under the age of 25, are the norm nationally on college campuses. However, students like Cherry are considered non-traditional in that they pursue higher education after having entered a career field. It’s students like Cherry who expand ECSU’s enrollment numbers and showcase the university’s commitment to educating all facets of the community.

According to ECSU Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Farrah J. Ward, Ph.D., strategic recruitment of adult learners and graduate students is key to ECSU’s continued growth. Enrollment for the fall 2023 semester reached 2,166 students. It is the highest number of enrolled students at the university in nine years and marks the sixth straight year numbers have risen.

Of particular significance is the 45% increase in the number of students pursuing credit-bearing professional development in Education. The university experienced a 4.3% increase in the adult learner population.

Like Cherry, this demographic is seeking career agility and though it can be a juggling act, ECSU has done a good job encouraging balance, she said.

“(ECSU) had the patience to understand that I am a working mother. They have also provided many resources and helped me to get myself together organizationally and prioritizing my time wisely,” Cherry said. “The school also adjusted things for me as an adult learner to accommodate and help with the entire process from enrolling to attending ECSU.”

After graduation, Cherry wants to open her own childcare facility, or work in the school system or even assist with opening a North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program at the facility where she currently works. In addition to her daughter who attends ECSU, she is the mother of a 19-year-old, a 13-year-old, and a 9-year-old.

Weston, an Elementary Education major, said she’s proud of her mother’s determination.

“She is very brave,” she said. “My mom is a role model by showing what it means to constantly work hard and never give up on what you want in life.”

ECSU Chancellor Karrie G. Dixon has said of the university’s pathways for adult learners, “We are … attracting students who want to continue and complete their education, which leads to economic mobility for our graduates. I am proud that ECSU faculty and staff are committed to preparing our students to become leaders and innovators in their chosen fields within our communities, our state, and the nation.”