UNC advisory committee closing in on recommendations
The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions met Wednesday in preparation for a Jan. 9 meeting where UNC system president Tom Ross said recommendations for a five-year strategic plan for the state’s 16 university campuses should begin to “crystallize.”
“What we hope to do at the Jan. 9 meeting is to begin to provide you with at least a high level overview of what we believe are comprehensive strategies that will lead us in the direction we think we ought to head as a university, that will help us reach our attainment goals, do it with quality and increase value,” Ross said.
Last month, the committee agreed on possibly setting a degree attainment goal of 32 percent of state residents having a bachelor’s degree or higher degree by 2018.
But Ross said increasing the number of degrees awarded should not come at the expense of quality.
“There are lots of ways you can reach your degree attainment,” Ross said “You can print some more degrees and hand them out, but the question is do they have any value. We want to be an institution that reaches our degree attainment goals, but only with degrees that have value, and then have students who are preparing to enter the workforce be successful in their endeavor as they move forward.”
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.
The committee has been meeting for a few months discussing proposals to increase degree attainment, improve educational quality, provide service the people of North Carolina, maximize efficiencies and ensure state schools remain accessible and financially stable.
Some of the proposals on the table will cost additional money, which might be hard to come by given state budgetary constraints. To help pay for them, Ross said the university system would have to continue efforts to become more efficient.
“If we’re going to make investments, some of those investments are going to have to be funded by repurposing dollars we already have in a limited resource environment,” Ross said.
On Wednesday, the committee focused on university research and the role it plays in society and distance education strategies and heard a presentation on methods to ensure and measure academic quality for Peter Ewell, vice president at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a research and development center founded to improve the management effectiveness of colleges and universities.
“We wanted you to hear about some of the work going on nationally and how to assess learning outcomes and how to know whether you’re being successful at your mission,” Ross said. “I think you can see again, it’s a moving target. It’s not something where anybody’s figured out the exact answer yet.”
Peter Hans, chairman of the Board of Trustees, noted that the UNC system brings in more than a billion dollars a year in research grants and contracts.
“This is a great boost to economic development in our state,” Hans said. “It provides useful training for many students and contributes to the improvement of knowledge and the human conditions,” Hans said.
And while several high profile companies have been launched from universities, Hans said university and system officials must do a better job of commercializing research, which creates jobs and a revenue stream for universities.