EXTENDED: Q&A with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory
The Daily Tar Heel's Gabriella Kostrzewa sat down with Gov. Pat McCrory in his office in the state Capitol on Thursday. They discussed issues impacting higher education, UNC-CH and college students. For an abbreviated version of the article, click here.
The Daily Tar Heel: How do you think the UNC system is doing? Has it been doing a good job of educating North Carolinians?
Pat McCrory: It’s doing well but you can never take its success for granted, and it’s got to constantly change and adapt to the ever-changing education and work environment. You can never stand still and live off of a past reputation.
I think the biggest issue that I have with the entire North Carolina education system is that employers still tell me even with a high unemployment rate that when they have openings they can’t find qualified employees. And that to me means that there is a disconnect between education and commerce. And we have to bring those two together because one of the goals of getting a good education is to also get a job.
And right now there is, in some areas, a disconnect, and we need to attach education more market forces because first of all education is subsidized by the taxpayers and it's business that we are trying to recruit. And it’s business that pays for much of education.
My goal is to get kids jobs so that they can pay off their student debt and not continue to have debt burden their lives. The other goal is that education has to streamline its costs. We cannot continue to have the increase of costs for education especially for higher education that have existed during the last 10 to 20 years.
These costs are first unacceptable to the students and unacceptable to the taxpayers. So education has to look for ways to streamline, to share resources, to prioritize, and to adapt very quickly to market and financial forces.
DTH: In follow up to that, when businesses or employers say workers aren’t qualified, how are they not qualified?
PM: Well, in general we still get complaints that many college graduates don’t have basic math, science, and even writing skills, which are necessary for any job. Even with a four-year college degree, they complain that many students are graduating without the basic skills.
Their second complaint is that they are often not graduating in majors they are looking for. There is still a lack of science majors graduating, information systems majors, computer majors, engineering majors and accounting majors.
We even see this in government. We are having a tough time filling jobs in specific areas and yet we continue to have in the university system the same amount of graduates in each major regardless of the market forces.
For example, right now even the law firms say that we have too many lawyers graduating from universities. There are not enough jobs and yet we are not making adjustments. There are not enough engineers so maybe we ought to transfer resources from one area to another based upon where the jobs are in the marketplace.
This is a new way of thinking for universities, as they in the past have not thought in a market standpoint. When times are tough financially for both students and for the taxpayers they need to adapt to the market forces, which made our country great.
: When you go to college, you've said the end goal is to get a job. Do you think there are any other goals?
PM: I think there are two goals. The first is to exercise your brain. Learn logic, learn problem solving, learn history so we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past, learn languages so you can adapt to this international environment and so you can be a better person.
I think the second goal is to learn many skills, which make you adaptable to the job market so you can make a living. Have a good quality of life and pay for your education.
Those are two of the main reasons for education. I think sometimes we put priority on other items, which is nice to have — like to enjoy four-year college life is a part of the growing up period — but it shouldn’t be the main priority.
The first priority is to exercise your brain and gain knowledge; the second is to gain skills, which would be beneficial for someone to be employable.
DTH: Do you believe that a liberal arts degree prepares students for the workforce and for life?
PM: Absolutely. I am a liberal arts major. I have never said a negative word about liberal arts.
Sadly, a journalism major wrote an article in which the headline said I did while if anyone actually reviewed the actual interview, I was actually complimentary to liberal arts education.
The only critical comment was, I didn’t think being a gender studies major would be real marketable in the future regarding job openings and that is a true statement.
In fact if anything, I think some of the liberal arts degrees — which I am — have forgotten the liberal arts part, and that is to get a variety of areas of knowledge, which include how to read a balance sheet.
It should include basic accounting, it should include basic math, which should include foreign language, which should include very good writing skills. I think we have left some of those out in the liberal arts degrees, and we have not put enough emphasis on the overall general knowledge that you need to have to live a good life and also get a job. And I would say that applies to all majors.
I am an advocate of a liberal arts degree but I am also an advocate of the areas where the taxpayers subsidize should have some market forces which emphasize and put priority over those areas that will most likely get a student a job.
And if we have unlimited resources, maybe we ought to offer science scholarships. If we have an over-abundance of journalism majors, maybe we don’t subsidize as many journalism majors, and we put that money more toward engineering as far as the subsidy part to meet the market demands.
When there is a shortage of journalists or sociology majors or other majors, then we shift. It doesn’t mean eliminate those, it means let the market forces have some factor of organizing education.
DTH: Do you think a part of the problem of students not majoring in science and math-related fields comes from not having the best K-12 education?
PM: Yes, I think that there are many students how — most of all in middle school — were directed to other areas and maybe those areas were not as tough, and they wanted their GPA a little higher and so they tended to take the easy courses, which made it easier to get into school. Maybe what we need to do is to reward those who are taking the tougher courses, and that includes science and math and languages that are so important.
But to me that is part of liberal arts education. I am a huge advocate of liberal arts education but I think we have lost some of the focus.
I was director of training at Duke Energy for six or seven years, I had graduates from universities who didn’t know how to read a annual report from businesses, which means they didn’t get a liberal arts degree, and they ought to be able to read a balance sheet or an annual report. That is the broad knowledge that is necessary to any job these days.
DTH: What are your feelings on the significant, legislature-enacted out-of-state tuition increase — 12.3 percent at UNC-CH?
PM: I have a bias toward in-state students and finding an affordable education for in-state students.
We need out-of-state students for several reasons. One is to ensure that the standards remain high and so that we have diversity of people from throughout the country and the world. But our bias has to be with the in-state students whose parents have been paying taxes and paying for education, including (of) past and current college students.
The real cost for a student going to Carolina is probably over $40,000 a year, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that that is the real cost. I would have to go back and check the exact number but it’s not much different than what you see out of a private college.
It’s very expensive and you have to understand someone is subsidizing that and the people who are subsidizing that are North Carolina taxpayers. So any break you give to one person, someone else is going to have to pay for that and that is where my bias is for the taxpayers of North Carolina and the students who went to school in North Carolina.
But I hope, and one reason I am really putting pressure on the university system to keep their costs down and to lower their administrative overhead is so that education is affordable for who it is supposed to be for and that’s the student and not for administrators and not for alumni, and not just related to athletics.
It is about educating our kids and we have to put the kids first in our education. And I think we have lost focus in that area and across the nation, not just in North Carolina.
DTH: What do you think of the way the UNC administration has handled the recent athletic and academic scandals?
PM: I thought when it first came out, it was handled very poorly. I have a lot of confidence in your new chancellor. She has been where you have sat at least two times and we have a very good working relationship.
She clearly understands that in order to clear the air and to regain the incredible reputation of UNC-CH that you first have to first solve the problem and own up to what was done wrong and make sure it never happens again. I am confident in her ability to do that.
In fact when she was here sitting in my office, I said, let’s go back and review Bill Friday’s speeches and his words of wisdom, incredible words of wisdom. And I think we got off that path during the past five to 10 years and Bill Friday warned us. And I think she has a great, great opportunity to regain the great reputation of UNC-CH and rebuild it and also kind of go back to the values that Bill Friday brought not just to Chapel Hill but the whole university system.
I was a big fan of Bill Friday. He understood that priorities of why we have universities and he understood the priorities of each aspect of the university life. And they are all important but they are not equal in importance.
And I think we need to go back and look at those words of Bill Friday and I remember his eulogy, (given by) Hodding Carter, I was in the audience. He might not of known that the future governor of North Carolina was in the audience, but I was. And Hodding Carter’s eulogy is something that every one ought to go back and look at those words.
DTH: What do you say to say to young North Carolinians who say that North Carolina is leaving its progressive roots?
PM: I would have to be given a specific example and in fact if anything, and on some of college campuses it has been just the opposite.
We have moved away from more moderate thinking and moved way to the left, especially in our college campuses and we have forgotten that what helped build the universities was a market enterprise in our country and in our state. The names of the buildings in Chapel Hill are named after entrepreneurs and people of industry.
And that is where the money came from and I think we’ve got to move more to the center especially in the academic environment and recognize there are many different political sides to an issue and that commerce is a dynamic part in our country and our state.
DTH: What advice do you have to young North Carolinians who will be entering college soon?
PM: Probably the first advice and the biggest thing is to learn to work with a team and with others. Learn to adapt to an ever-changing environment in the marketplace. Don’t waste the precious time that you have at a university. It will go by very quickly.
It is not only their investment. It is my investment, too. I am paying for them, and I want them to take advantage of every moment of their university career because I want them to have that knowledge base to create something for North Carolina — to create something and those are my expectations.
I think the last thing is fulfill your potential. Do not waste potential that has been given to you. And for those areas where you have potential weaknesses, build on them and where you have strengths build on those as well. Don’t get caught up in the environment that, I have four years to kill and I will glide through.
That is a valuable spot where other people would love to have that opportunity, especially at Chapel Hill. A lot of people have been turned down from Chapel Hill. And I hate to have students who have been accepted waste that opportunity to not fulfill their potential and serve a purpose for the next generation.
Don’t get caught up in the game of heavy drinking and drug use. I am very concerned about the addiction situation in our universities and our society. I am not saying this from a purity standpoint but there is not enough information on the long-term impact of drugs and alcohol.
We have got to get over this rite of passage when you go to college, you are allowed to experiment with drugs and alcohol as though there is no long-term effects when in fact there are huge long-term effects — that individual is wasting their ability to build their potential and there is a long-term cost to society and to taxpayers.
I am going to pull that issue out from and out of the closet to try and help those students who have addiction issues. I think we do not realize the real harm that is being done and destroying kids' brains. We are investing in that brain right now.
We have too many kids who, due to peer pressure or a rite of passage, think it’s a short term issue but its not, it’s a long-term issue with incredibly damaging consequences, and I am not afraid to say it. It is very disturbing. I have been there. I have been a part of it in the past. I happened to survive but a lot of kids aren’t surviving, especially those kids who do not have the wealth to recover.
DTH: What grade would you give yourself for the first year in office?
PM: I don’t believe in grading myself, and I think it’s foolish to grade someone after a one-year period. I may not be graded for another 10 years because a lot of things that we are implementing (are) for the long term.
The impact will hopefully be beneficial for the next decade, not the next election, and that is the way political leaders need to think — not think about their grade or their next election or their legacy but long-term sustainable viable solutions to some very complex problems.
In my first year in office, when I came into office, we had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country. We owed the federal government $2.6 billion in federal unemployment compensation. We had a $535 million cost overrun Medicaid. That is what I walked into. I didn’t make decisions based on the latest survey or based upon the editorial page of the Daily Tar Heel or the (Raleigh) News & Observer or the Charlotte Observer. I could care less.
I made decisions for the next generation and some of those decisions are already working, even in the short term. Our unemployment rate isn’t even in the top 30, after only 14 months and that means students who graduate from Chapel Hill will have the opportunity to get a better job as opposed to getting unemployment and not being able to pay off their student debt.
I want to lower the student debt, I want to lower the cost of education, and I want to make education more effective so our students can get jobs. The competitive world is going to force that on academics soon regardless, because students are going to start having choices pretty soon. They are going to take the lowest cost, most effective education they can get.
I have a nephew who's graduating from UNC business school, and he selected an MBA program in Chicago, Kellogg. You know why? Because it is one year, not two. He goes wait a minute, I only lose income for one year and I save $30,000 in tuition. The school in Chicago adapted to this next generation’s needs because of student debt and because of the changing social and demographics pressures that they are under right now. My generation better recognize that adaption and that includes the academia of my generation.
DTH: What’s the worst day you have had in office?
PM: I think it was last week. When we found out a forest ranger was killed, murdered, assassinated. I went to go meet his family. It broke my heart. When two of our highway patrol officers killed the assailant.
And I believe the other one was my second month in office when I believe a highway patrol officer was shot in the face and those grieving families. Those are the little things (that) are out of your control and yet you have to deal with them. I have enjoyed this job. This job is an opportunity to make a difference.
My main goal is to make a difference, not just for your generation, but the nine and 10 year olds who will be going to Carolina in 10 years or (N.C.) State or a private school in North Carolina.
DTH: Do you cheer for Duke or Carolina?
PM: It is kind of interesting. I went to Catawba so I cheer for the player and Catawba. I didn’t go to Carolina or Duke.
I cheer for certain players. I have two favorite basketball players right now. One is your guard for Carolina, Marcus Paige. I love Marcus Paige. I just wish the coach would let him play in the first half too, let him shot in the first half. I love him. I like your coach too but Marcus Paige is just a dynamic athlete. So I root for Marcus Paige.
Kind of the way I used to root for Michael Jordan when I was a referee. Although I never rooted for him when I was refereeing (a game Jordan played in). I called traveling on Michael Jordan.
Then I like the kid from Duke, (Jabari) Parker. I like the way he plays. Those are my two favorite players in the ACC right now.
When I am watching a game, I am an older basketball referee, I root for plays, I root for talent, I root for a team concept and so when it is a good team concept I cheer the basket regardless of the outcome.
DTH: Who did you pick in your bracket?
PM: I haven’t done a bracket. This is the first year, I have been working. I am just working 16 hours a day.
It’s their style of play. I love style of play of Marcus Paige because he has a little Stephen Curry fast release, and yet he has a quick move like Allen Iverson. So I like that combination of talent. In fact I like the guard for N.C. State. I watch the game as a referee. I am more than a fan.
DTH: What else do you have to say to students at UNC?
PM: I am envious of your opportunity. Take advantage of it. I love your campus. I like your new chancellor.
I love the feel of Chapel Hill, but Chapel Hill, like all institutions, (is) going to adapt and change to the ever-changing market conditions of markets and education, just like students no matter what you have learned this year, you are going to have to learn more each year.
For the rest of your life — I am having to learn something new every single day.
DTH: What have you learned today?
PM: I learned about an environmental issue regarding a discharge leak in a river. I didn’t know from a scientific standpoint if releasing certain types of water from a coal fire plant, what kind of damage that would cause. This is a whole new issue — that is what I learned today.
I learned some science and engineering today. We had a dog sit right there. I found a new advocate to help get my wife’s puppy bill passed — this hero dog came to visit me. The young woman with the dog has 200-300,000 people on her Facebook, and I am going to use the Facebook as a lobbying tool to help get the puppy mill passed.
I am going to reach out for help to help give the Senate some common sense to pass stronger regulations on puppy mills in N.C.
DTH: Do you write your own tweets?
PM: No. I would like to start, but I don’t. It’s pretty obvious that I don’t. I do read them. They call me up on the road and I tell them what I’m doing.
I communicate my tweets but I don’t write them myself. I am technology-challenged. Although I have an iPad and an iPhone. I live on my iPad. I don’t have a computer on my desk anymore. I live in a car. I spend most of my time in a car.
I am a news junkie and a reading junkie. I try to read and learn something new every day.
Share on social media?