Advisory committee aims high on degree attainment

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 07:01 PM

A UNC system committee developing the next five-year strategic plan for the 17-campus university is aiming high.

The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Direction is set to recommend setting a state degree attainment goal of 32 percent for residents age 25 to 64 by 2018.

And by 2025, the committee wants North Carolina to be one of the 10 most educated states in the nation by pushing the degree attainment goal to 37 percent.

Officials said a benefit of having a highly educated population is that the state will be better prepared to meet future workforce demands, a key to attracting top businesses to the state.

“This is less about the university, except what our goal is and more about the future of North Carolina and being sure that we have a workforce that’s prepared for the 21st century and can meet the economic demands of this state and our business community, and what’s our role in trying to make that happen,” UNC system President Tom Ross said.   

UNC officials also contend that a well-educated state also yields other important economic and social benefits.

For example, officials say studies show that state residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher require less support from public social programs such as Medicaid, welfare and food stamps.

Also, college-educated residents volunteer at higher rates, have higher rates of civic participation and have healthier and better educated children.  

The committee met Wednesday to look over a draft of the strategic plan that will be shared with members of the UNC Board of Governors today.

The draft plan titled “Our Time Our Future: The UNC Compact with North Carolina,”outlines goal Ross identified as high priorities when he gave the committee its charge.

In addition to setting a state degree attainment goal, Ross set as priorities strengthening academic quality, serving the people of North Carolina, maximizing efficiencies and ensuring an accessible and financially stable university.

On Wednesday, the committee tackled degree attainment, strengthening academic quality and serving the people of North Carolina.

They also heard a report from UNC System Chief Operating Officer Charlie Perusse about possible strategies to help pay for the extras needed to reach the goals in the strategic plan.

Perusse said state money will remain tight. He said the system is already doing a good job at becoming more efficient, but must continue to do so.

A spirited debate erupted at the suggestion the system consider raising its non-resident enrollment cap, set at 18 percent for non-resident, first-time, full-time students.

Out-of-state students pay higher tuition and allowing more of them to enroll in system schools could generate significant revenue.

But some committee members worried that allowing more out-of-state students would displace North Carolina students whose parents pay state taxes.

 “I’m not a huge supporter of raising that cap for out-of-state students,” said Frank Grainger, a member of the UNC Board of Governors.   

But those supporting raising the cap said out-of-state students bring much more than additional revenue to campus.

 “That’s one objective, but there are a lot of other good things that will come from it” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, referring to revenue out-of-state students generates. “You bring students from all over. Because the international students are included in the 18 percent, we’re far below our peers in international students, and I personally don’t think that’s good for our students who have to live in a global economy.”

Grainger said he was less concerned about bringing in international students than he was raising the cap to admit more students from out-of-state.

“If you have foreign students who qualify, then I think we look at them, but I’m not interested in seeing a lot more coming from out-of-state,” Grainger said.