UNC Board of Governors approves strategic plan

Feb. 08, 2013 @ 05:46 PM

The UNC Board of Governors Friday unanimously approved a five-year strategic plan that sets a degree attainment goal of 32 percent, which UNC system officials say will make North Carolina one of the most educated and business-ready states in the nation by 2018.

Meeting that goal, officials say, will ensure that North Carolina has a workforce that’s prepared for the 21st century and ready to meet the economic demands of the state and business community.

 “In the economy of today and tomorrow, the winners are going to be people who have a talent pool that can meet the demands of the new economy,” UNC system President Tom Ross said a news conference. “That’s what I think this is about, preparing a talent pool for tomorrow. I think our plan will help us get there and help us stay there.”

The UNC system will employ a number of strategies to help boost the number of degrees granted by its universities, including producing more degrees among transfer students, encouraging former students who left school without degrees to return and convincing military personnel that UNC schools are of better quality and a better bargain than the online schools that have become popular among the troops.

Over the next five years, the university system plans to ask state lawmakers for about $650 million in new money to implement its plan. Officials say it will also redirect some $325 million to the effort it hopes to gain in cost-saving through becoming more efficient.

If fully implemented, system officials said the state will see a significant return on its investment -- $1.5 billion in total economic activity statewide, 22,000 new jobs and 92,000 new degrees by 2025.

Selling the plan to the General Assembly will be the next big step, and Ross said system officials have already begun to meet with state leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory.

“The comments that we’ve heard back is that it’s much more reasonable than many university budgets they’ve seen in the past,” Ross said. “It really only seeks less than 2 percent, about 1.5 percent over the next five years, so it’s not a huge amount of money that we’re asking for in terms of a percentage of our budget, but we think very targeted in terms of the work that can be accomplished with those dollars.”

Ross said he will also spend time with faculties throughout the UNC system, some of which have expressed concerns about plan. Fourteen faculty governing bodies have approved resolutions voicing concern about some part of the plan.

Chief among their worries is their concern that curriculum decision-making could be taken away from the faculty.

 “I’ll be going out and talking with faculties on the campuses over the next several months, not all of them I’m sure but many of them, to be sure they understand the plan but to also address their concerns,” Ross said.

In addition to setting a degree attainment goal, the strategic plan will focus on strengthening academic quality, better serving the people of the state, maximizing efficiencies and ensuring an accessible and financially stable university system.

Ross and others have called the plan a “living document” that will be revisited each year and updated as needed.

 “At the end of each year, the board will look at it and we’ll make any recommendation we think the board should consider around modifications of the plan,” Ross said. “May be that none are necessary. It may be that some are necessary because of the difference in resources or the times of the day, what things might have happened external to the university that could require change.”

Ross said some proposals in the plan are already under way, but that citizens should begin to see significant impacts next fall.

“Certainly by next fall there are going to be some changes that will be very evident in terms of some new e-learning opportunities and some of the changes in our academic policies that we hope will affect graduation and retention,” Ross said. “Some of these are resource dependent and so it will depend on what resources are available how quickly they begin to show impact.”

The final plan approved by the board reflected changes requested by board members Frank Grainger and Charles Mercer.

On Thursday, Mercer told the board that the plan should note the board’s commitment to academic freedom and Grainger complained that the plan didn’t include anything about agriculture, the state’s No. 1 industry.

 “I want to thank the group for adding the agriculture part that they did because I think that’s very important and the engineering sector as well,” Grainger said. “Those are very important parts to our state and our economy going forward, so I think that will serve us well.”