Commentary: UNC strategic plan helps state achieve its full potential

Commentary: UNC strategic plan helps state achieve its full potential
June 08
03:00 2017

By Elwood Robinson

The North Carolina State Constitution is clear. It states in no uncertain terms that public higher education should, as far as practicable, “be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” We are one of the few states that has this mandate enshrined in our constitution. Our state’s founders understood that education is a critical public good.

Accomplishing this requires a multifaceted approach. Not only must we keep costs down, we also must deliver our students an education in the most efficient manner possible – all without sacrificing quality. This is a challenge the University is well positioned to tackle.

This spring, the University of North Carolina system rolled out its strategic plan for 2017-2022 after spending a year speaking with faculty, staff, administrators, business and civic leaders, elected officials, and the community at large. The plan reflects the state’s commitment to ensuring that college is within reach for all citizens of North Carolina. While our public universities are already among the best values in the country, we must build upon that foundation to ensure any student in the state can afford to attend college if she or he wishes.

One way college costs can be driven down is by reducing the length of time it takes to complete a degree. Students who graduate in four years will typically spend less overall for their educations than students who take five or six years to complete their studies.

To help incentivize students to complete their degrees in eight semesters, a new guaranteed tuition policy was put into effect for the state’s public universities beginning in fall 2016. UNC system students are now locked into a fixed tuition rate for four years of continuous enrollment. This means they will be exempt from tuition increases if they complete their degree in four years, giving them both a cost break as well as the ability to predict accurately what their overall financial needs will be.

To help ensure students are able to matriculate through the University in that time frame, Winston-Salem State University is building upon work we began five years ago. Our faculty and administrators have taken a close look at how our general education courses integrate with the majors and how those courses can be used by students to meet the prerequisites required for advanced study. Meanwhile, advisers have been working closely with students to help them identify the best courses to take to meet their graduation requirements.

This fall, we also began a deeper dive into curriculum reform. We are looking at our curriculum from all angles and making decisions on the alignment of courses by placing the student at the center of the process. We are continually asking ourselves challenging questions about how we can better serve our students – and how we can better serve our state by reducing the overall cost per degree for taxpayers.

The oft-quoted saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats” is a truism. There is no doubt that having a well-educated population reaps enormous benefits for all citizens of North Carolina.

Our state is growing rapidly – and growing more diverse. Meanwhile, the global economy is changing, as are the expectations for our workforce. Employers are increasingly looking for people with broader skills and deeper knowledge. Prosperity for our state requires us to offer a public higher education system that responds to those needs – and serves not only those with the financial ability to pay for college but also those from under-resourced families.

The Strategic Plan for the University of North Carolina (2017-2022) lays out a strong path for ensuring all North Carolinians can achieve their dreams and demonstrates our state’s commitment to higher education.

This is an exciting time to live in this great state. With this robust, collaborative, and well-crafted plan, the University is poised to help North Carolina reach its full potential.

Elwood L. Robinson is chancellor of Winston-Salem State University.

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