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Saturday January 22nd

Strategic plan eyes degree attainment

North Carolina will be one of the top 10 most educated states in the country by 2025.

At least, that’s the aim of UNC-system administrators who set a goal to increase the proportion of degree holders in North Carolina from 26 percent to 32 percent by 2018, and 37 percent by 2025 to align with projected state needs.

UNC-system Strategic Plan Series

This is the fourth part of a series examining each of the five goals in the UNC-system’s five-year strategic plan.

Goal one: Degree attainment

Goal two: Academic quality

Goal three: Service to the state

Goal four: Maximizing efficiencies

Goal five: Future fundraising

Increasing degree attainment is the first of five goals outlined in the system’s five-year strategic plan.

“Underlying all our estimates was a recognition that the world is changing,” said Daniel Cohen-Vogel, the system’s senior director of institutional research.

The plan calls for better college readiness in high school students and recruiting more adult, military and community college transfer students to UNC-system schools.

But the strategic plan is operating with a tight budget, Cohen-Vogel said. Instead of receiving additional funding for the strategic initiatives, UNC-system officials were only given permission to move about $3 million from one area of the system’s budget to strategic directions initiatives.

As a result, administrators are focusing on initiatives that require no additional funding, he said.

“There was a recognition that we couldn’t do everything, but we wanted to do as much as we could with limited resources,” he said.

‘Help them graduate’

To increase retention among recent high school graduates, administrators plan to utilize Summer Bridge programs, which allows graduates to get college credit and learn time-management skills.

“Once they are ready to enter into our institutions, we have to make sure that they are provided with academic support, and (there are) student success strategies in place to help them graduate,” said Karrie Dixon, senior associate vice president for academic and student affairs in the system.

The state-run program is in place at five system campuses. Dixon said she hopes to see it expanded, but it needs additional funding.

“The skills and knowledge necessary 30 or so years ago to achieve a reasonable quality of life are now insufficient; now these skills would lead to low-wage jobs, at best,” said Jon Young, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Fayetteville State University. He oversees the school’s Summer Bridge program.

Fayetteville State’s Summer Bridge program gives conditionally admitted students, who were denied full admission because of standardized test scores, a chance to gain admission by completing two courses.

From 2008-12, 99 percent of participants earned a C or better in both courses and were able to enroll in Fayetteville State full time in the fall. This has increased degree acquisition, especially with black students, Young said in an email.

Recruiting students

The plan includes expanding programs to attract high school students before they set foot on a college campus.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, funded through a federal grant in 11 school districts in the state, assists students from seventh grade on to increase their likelihood of applying and getting in to colleges.

The program offers services like tutoring, college visits and financial aid help, which the program’s state director Carol Cutler-White said have helped increase the number of college applications.

Administrators also aim to recruit more adult students, military students and “part-way home” students who have earned 90 or more college credit hours but never earned a degree by offering flexible schedules and online classes.

System administrators also hope to promote greater access to admissions for community college students.

In 2011, only 3,000 N.C. community college students who earned an associate’s degree transferred to UNC-system schools, out of the 6,500 total who graduated with associate’s degrees from state community colleges.

Dixon said it’s important to consider how the various pipelines to college are functioning.

“College graduates contribute to the economy and to the way of life for all citizens across our state,” she said.

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