The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday June 8th

BOG to focus on student innovation

The UNC-system Board of Governors will craft a new plan this fall to better prepare students — both in and out of the classroom — for an ever-changing global economy.

The new strategic plan, announced at the board’s meeting earlier this month, will focus on making students more creative, innovative and globally competitive.

Peter Hans, who began his tenure as chairman of the board on July 1, said at the meeting that system President Thomas Ross will form a committee to draft the plan and bring it before the board in January. The committee will be composed of business, higher education and political leaders from both sides of the aisle.

The new plan will in some ways replace UNC Tomorrow, the brainchild of former UNC-system President Erskine Bowles.

UNC Tomorrow was originally designed to meet regional needs in the state — and it also had the unintended consequence of creating a backlog of degree programs for approval by the board.

The strategic plan aims to refocus universities on teaching students the skills necessary for the jobs of the future.

At its meeting, the board heard a presentation from John Wynne, a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, about the council’s efforts to enlist the support of Virginia’s business community for more higher education funding.

Wynne said a bipartisan coalition of business and political leaders helped secure $255 million in reform-based funds from Virginia’s 2012-14 budget for the state’s universities and colleges.

He said board members must emphasize the plan’s reform aspect to state legislators.

“It’s not just about more funding,” he said. “It’s also about innovation and more efficiency.”

The N.C. Chamber of Commerce already held an education summit earlier this month — attended by both Hans and Ross — about preparing the state’s future workforce, indicating support for collaborating with universities.

At the summit, N.C. Sen. Phil Berger, R-Guilford, president pro tempore of the Republican-led Senate, addressed business executives about the benefits of giving their input on legislative reforms.

“It’s in your company’s self-interest to be involved, because ultimately the graduates of our school systems are your employees down the road,” Berger said. “What you want is an educated workforce, and what you want are educated, motivated and qualified employees.”

At the board meeting, UNC-CH business professor James Johnson told members that they’ll need to adapt their plan to the rapidly changing demographics in the state.

Johnson said the number of white students enrolled in N.C. public schools decreased by 0.2 percent between 2000 and 2009, the number of black students increased by 13 percent, and enrollment swelled for other ethnic groups.

The number of Asian students increased by 49 percent, and Hispanic enrollment increased by 171 percent.

The state’s aging population will also pose problems in the future, Johnson said, with thousands more retirees receiving benefits than workers to pay for them. While the number of state residents younger than 45 increased by 522,594 between 2000 and 2010, the number of residents aged 45 and older increased by almost double — 963,576.

Johnson said future students will need to develop skills beyond a traditional liberal arts education to be globally competitive, including analytical reasoning and entrepreneurial acumen.

“Education is necessary but not sufficient,” he said.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp said he was pleased to hear Johnson’s recommendation of boosting entrepreneurial skills. Thorp has spearheaded efforts to increase student interest in innovation and will help teach an introductory entrepreneurship course at the University this fall.

“We kind of backed into it,” Thorp said. “But now that everybody’s talking about this, we think that this really positions us well.”

Though the system still faces uncertain funding, Hans said administrators must be proactive in implementing the strategic plan.

“I’m not interested in just playing defense in the next two years,” he said. “We won’t make everyone happy, and Lord knows we’re not perfect, but we will lead.”

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