The UNC system might be the key to stimulate economic development in North Carolina.
With a loss of 181,000 North Carolina jobs from 2007 to 2012, the UNC-system Board of Governors is hoping to engage the universities and spark economic recovery.
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
Service to the state is the third of five goals set out in the system’s five-year strategic plan.
Kevin FitzGerald, chief of staff to UNC-system President Tom Ross, said the strategic plan calls for $70 million within the first year, but system officials can only move $3 million from one area of the system’s budget to initiatives in the plan.
Fitzgerald said he might see an update on budgetary allocations from the legislature in August.
“Most programs have been delayed in some capacity,” he said.
But some initatives outlined in the plan have received funding.
REACH NC, a web portal that connects university faculty, industry executives and community groups, has received some money for expansion, per the plan’s third goal.
Executive Director Sharlini Sankaran said the individuals connected by the group do research to expand the state’s economy.
“North Carolina is the only state to have something of this magnitude, and it shows how important research is to the economic development of the state,” she said.
In addition, FitzGerald said $200,000 has been committed to funding the expansion of the UNC Defense Applications Group.
The group is composed of faculty and staff from N.C. universities who are working on research and development for the U.S. Army Special Army Operations Command.
“The Board of Governors has realized that, at a university, we can do great things,” said Michael Steer, member of UNC Defense Applications Group and professor at N.C. State University. “The state has only just bought into the idea that military research and development is something the university must truly be involved in.”
Steer said military research in North Carolina is lagging behind the advancement of many other states.
He said the group’s expansion will go beyond helping N.C. military bases to help bases across the world.
The third goal also calls for the expansion of many other initiatives, including health care reform and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, but these have been delayed due to lack of funding.
“There is a lot of pressure on the budget at the state level,” said Warren Newton, director of the North Carolina Area Health Education Center Program. “Health care reform is already here, we just need to figure out how to best deal with all of the changes now.”
When there is adequate funding, Newton will work with the UNC system on establishing a Health Care Redesign Task Force. This group will be responsible for analyzing all state-level health care reform issues and deciding the best course of action.
“There is a real opportunity to improve when the funding allows us to,” Newton said. “People need to know it is possible to improve their quality of care and also reduce costs.”
The N.C. School of Science and Math is also called upon to increase its residential capacity by 70 students to train more “superstar STEM students.”
But NCSSM Chancellor Todd Roberts said the acquisition of a new residence hall would cost about $8 million.
“Each year we have to turn down qualified students for our residential program simply because we don’t have the space for them,” Roberts said.
Roberts said STEM educational programs are crucial to North Carolina’s economy, considering the return on investment for the state. About 60 percent of NCSSM graduates each year attend a UNC-system school.
“Though the legislature has not approved funding to increase the expansion of NCSSM, we are confident this expansion will occur soon,” he said.
FitzGerald said he is optimistic the resources will fall into place with the cooperation of the state legislature.
“Many other resources will be needed, but I feel confident there will be strong paybacks for the people and the economy of the state.”
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