This report coincided with the early planning sessions of a new five-year strategic plan for the system. After months of meetings and community forums the UNC-system Board of Governors drafted five themes for the new plan — access, affordability and efficiency, student success, economic impact and community engagement, and excellent and diverse institutions.
The UNC-system Board of Governors will finalize the plan during a meeting in January, and the plan will go into effect after the previous plan expires in 2018.
The plan’s current draft lays out the system’s goal to increase undergraduate enrollment by a currently-undecided number, with a focus on increasing the percent of low-income students by a similarly undecided amount.
In 2015, 40 percent of in-state students in the system came from households with an annual income of less than $50,000, and 20 percent from households making less than $25,000.
Andrew Kelly, UNC-system senior vice president for strategy and policy, said access for low income students would intersect with access for other groups.
“You’re gonna have a lot of students from rural areas in that low-income category, you’re gonna have a lot of underrepresented minorities in that low-income category as well,” he said.
Affordable, efficient schools
According to a report from the Pope Center for Higher Education, tuition and fees across the system have increased by 65 percent in the past 10 years. The draft plan aims to tie annual percent increases in undergraduate in-state tuition to the rate of inflation.
“We’re trying to peg our tuition rate increases to something that people can identify with — the inflation rate or the wage rate — so that our tuition does not go up substantially higher than what people are able to afford,” said Lou Bissette, chairperson of the Board of Governors.
Chris Barker, a research associate professor of genetics at UNC-Chapel Hill who attended a plan forum at UNC-CH, said the state’s lack of support for the system will make this goal difficult.
“The state does not want to put the level of support into higher education anymore, but they don’t want to shoulder the responsibility for the higher tuition,” Barker said. “So who’s to blame?”
The draft plan emphasizes timely degree completion as a way to increase student success.
According to the Pope Center report, compared to the whole system, the rate of students who graduate within six years was the highest at UNC-CH — over 90 percent — while at several minority-serving institutions the rates were under 50 percent.
Bissette said changing student populations make four or six-year graduation metrics less straightforward.
“Now a sizeable percentage of our student population is not your standard student,” he said. “They’re adults they’re working, they’re part-time, and you can’t say that they’ve got to get through in four years.”
The plan instead focuses on degree efficiency, or the number of undergraduate degrees awarded per 100 full-time students, as a metric.
Economic impact and community engagement
The plan would focus on increasing STEM, health sciences and teaching degrees to increase the system’s impact on the state’s economy.
“I do think we need to try to be sure that our university system is doing the best job that it can to produce students that go into the workforce where those jobs are needed,” Bissette said.
Barker said universities should be careful steering students into certain fields and should focus on teaching students how to reason and solve problems.
Excellent and diverse institutions
The draft plan encourages each university to have a specialization.
Robinson said specialization is an efficient use of resources.
“N.C. State has a great engineering school, it would be a waste of money and resources to try and replicate that on other campuses,” she said.
The plan also places an emphasis on faculty retention. Barker said the high number of fixed-term faculty in the system causes low retention.
“In many cases there’s no path forward for fixed-term faculty,” he said.
Bissette said salaries have a lot to do with retention.
“During the recession, I think there weren’t a lot of raises, and so there were concerns that we could have really fantastic faculty members, fantastic teachers being lured away by more money from other institutions,” he said.