UNC system offcials say degree attainment goal is doable

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 05:58 PM

Boosting the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher to 32 percent won’t be easy, but UNC system leaders weighing the matter emerged from a week of meetings confident that the five-year goal is achievable.

A committee of business leaders, educators and elected officials has been working on a five-year strategic plan for the university system and has recommended setting a degree attainment goal of 32 percent for residents 25 to 64 by 2018.

UNC system President Tom Ross said that one of the more interesting debates on the topic has been about striking the right balance between setting aspirational and realistic goals.

“I think we’ve struck the right balance,” he said. “I hope we have. It’s a challenge. It’s not going to be easy. I’ll be honest with you. But I think if we want to be the most competitive state to attract new business and meet the workforce demands that are going to be there, then we need to meet this goal.”

The committee also wants North Carolina to be one of the 10 most educated states in the nation by 2025, which means increasing degree attainment to 37 percent.

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

Depending on which report or study one uses for reference, anywhere between 26 percent and 28.1 percent of North Carolinians have bachelor’s degrees or higher degrees.
To reach the 32 percent goal, the state’s public and private universities and colleges would have to churn out 500,000 new degrees between now and 2018.

o meet the goal, system officials hope to tap members of the Armed Forces, former UNC system students who did not complete their degree and a steady supply of transfer students, whose numbers grew by 7.5 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2012.

And Ross said an article he read before Friday’s board meeting showed that the state’s high school population continues to grow and will produce a great number of students who will choose to attend state-supported schools upon graduation.

“North Carolina is one that’s still growing, not as fast as some states like Texas, but faster than California and some other states,” Ross said. We’re still going to have some increase in high school pipeline,”

He said the state has also seen an increase in high school graduation rates, which increases the number of potential students who might enroll in a UNC system school.

“We’re optimistic we can even do more to help that pipeline be a stronger one for us,” Ross said.

This week, the board has focused on three of the five priorities Ross set at the beginning of the process – setting a degree attainment goal, strengthening academic quality and serving the people of North Carolina.

It will tackle the other two – maximizing efficiencies and ensuring an accessible and financially stable university – in the coming weeks.

No dollar figure has yet been attached to proposal, and while the board will likely ask the state for money to pay for the plan, Ross said savings from further maximizing efficiencies and the reallocation of existing resources will also be used.

The board will likely consider whether to approve the plan Feb. 8.