UNC-system strategic plan moves on to legislature

The UNC system has outlined a new vision for the next five years — but obtaining the money to implement that vision is far from guaranteed.

The system’s Board of Governors approved a new five-year strategic plan for universities last week after a six-month planning process that included input from the state’s business and higher education leaders.

The plan aims to increase the percentage of the state’s bachelor-degree holders to 32 percent by 2018 through improving graduation rates and attracting more nontraditional students, including veterans and residents with some credit but no degree.

BASICS OF THE STRATEGIC PLAN
  • The plan aims to boost the percentage of the state’s population with degrees to 32 percent by 2018.
  • The plan must receive final approval from the state legislature, which will appropriate money to implement its proposals.

But before the plan is ready for implementation, it must receive final approval from the state legislature. Universities have absorbed millions in budget cuts in recent years during a tough economic period for the state.

The plan is estimated to cost $199 million for the five-year period, but the system is initially asking for less money than it has in the past — which system leaders have said should help ensure its passage.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, chairman of the N.C. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said he is optimistic about some aspects of the plan. He said the committee has yet to fully review the plan, but will attempt to balance a liberal arts education with more professional training.

“It’s a good thing as a goal,” he said. “But how we get there and what resources we have to put to get there are things I don’t know the answers to yet.”

The plan has also drawn its share of critics.

Rob Schofield, Director of Research and Policy Development for the left-leaning N.C. Policy Watch, said the plan is full of goals but short on details about how to implement them.

“I don’t think you can read this and know what is going to happen,” Schofield said.

Jenna Ashley Robinson, director of outreach for the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education, said increasing degree recipients might lead to more graduates accepting jobs that don’t match their skills.

Instead of pursuing a four-year college degree, some students should pursue alternatives like community college, she said.

“There will be a lot of jobs that require just some college,” she said.

Robinson said the system’s decision to begin using the Collegiate Learning Assessment — a national test that measures skills such as critical thinking — will improve performance on campuses. Still, University faculty have previously criticized the proposal and said it could lead to teaching to the test.

Schofield said tying funding to test results would be difficult with state money already scarce.

“That’s worrisome — if (the model is), ‘We’re going to extract more out of fewer resources,’” he said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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