UNC Strategic Plan Hurt By Budget Cuts

CHAPEL HILL – The University of North Carolina’s five-year Strategic Plan took a big hit with the approval of this year’s budget by the N.C. Legislature.

However, System President Tom Ross says the way in which the cuts were handed out will allow the individual campuses to protect its most vulnerable areas.

North Carolina saw a permanent funding reduction of $115 million and a $64 million net funding reduction. The cuts also include the elimination of all funding for UNC’s School of Medicine, as President Ross announced $15 million was allocated last year.

President Ross says the fact that enrollment increases and building improvements were approved as well as tuition hikes for out-of-state students being confined to undergraduates all helped the budget struggle.

To read President Ross’ statement released on the budget, click here.


UNC Turning To “Competency-Based” Approach

CHAPEL HILL – As the UNC system reexamines its strategic goals for the next five years, university officials have turned to employers and business leaders to identify key needs—and the result of that will be a new focus on a novel academic approach called “competency-based learning.”

That’s according to UNC president Tom Ross, who says today’s business leaders want people who can think and communicate effectively for themselves.

“When we talk to people–business leaders and other employers of all types–they tell us what they need more than anything else who can think critically, who can write and communicate orally, who can understand how to use data, how to look at a variety of different disciplinary concerns to solve problems, (and) how to work in teams,” Ross says. “Those are the core ‘competencies’ that employers need.”

More information on “competency-based education” available herehereherehere, andhere. (Online universities have been a driving force in the CBE movement so far–most notably Western Governors University, based in Utah.)

The competency-based learning approach focuses on developing broader, widely-applicable skills—like writing and critical thinking—rather than particular bits of information or specific knowledge about specific jobs. In essence it suggests a return to the liberal arts and a recommitment to developing well-rounded graduates with a strong intellectual core—a task that UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp says has been a strength of the UNC system from the beginning.


And while employers say they need competent workers for jobs right now, Thorp says the real strength of “competency-based learning” is in how it trains students to adapt to the as-yet-unknown jobs of the future.

“If a student is a junior in high school now…by the time they get out (of college) it’s five, six years from now–and the rate of change in the economy right now, with technology and migration, is so fast,” he says. “We need to give students the ability to teach themselves the jobs of the future, because we can’t prepare them for jobs that don’t exist yet.”

Right now, the competency-based approach is still in development. Ross says turning to it now will not only benefit today’s students—it’ll also put UNC on the cutting edge of an educational trend that’s only going to become more mainstream in the coming years.

“Really nobody’s doing competency-based education,” he says. “The assessment tools available to look at it are still in development and relatively new. So it’s new territory–but (it’s) ground we need to plow, if we’re going to be a successful university in the future.”

The focus on “competency-based learning” is part of the UNC system’s new five-year strategic plan, which the UNC Board of Governors is currently examining. The Board saw a draft of the plan at their meeting earlier this month; it’s expected to approve the final version in February.


Ross: UNC Strategic Plan Blends Quality Education, Job Needs

CHAPEL HILL – This week, the UNC Board of Governors examined the first draft of the strategic plan that will govern the university for the next five years—and system president Tom Ross says he’s confident it will move UNC in the right direction.
“What’s most exciting to me about this plan is (that) it really incorporates together our responsibility to help the state be prepared to meet the workforce demands of the future, but to do it with high academic quality,” he says.

Read the plan here.

The five-year plan is entitled “Our Time, Our Future: The UNC Compact with North Carolina,” written by UNC’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions. That committee generated some controversy in the fall, as some observers complained that there weren’t enough members with direct UNC ties—and that those who were on the committee were not sufficiently committed to the value of higher education.

But Ross says he’s happy with the finished product regardless.

“At the end of the day,” he said at Friday’s meeting, “I think everyone is committed to endorsing a plan that ensures an affordable, high-quality education for our students and that effectively and efficiently responds to the evolving state needs.”

The 66-page draft released this week comprises the first three chapters of a five-chapter plan, corresponding to five overarching goals: graduating a higher percentage of North Carolinians; improving academic quality; serving the people of the state; maximizing efficiency; and maintaining affordability, accessibility, and financial stability.

Read a recap of the first day of the Board’s two-day meeting.

In order to accomplish those ends, the plan proposes a variety of specific objectives. Among those are a targeted focus on particular research areas, an added commitment to online education or “distance learning”—and an ambitious goal of raising the number of North Carolinians with bachelor’s and professional degrees.

Right now about 30 percent of North Carolinians have degrees; the plan is to raise that to 32 percent by 2018. It doesn’t sound like a big increase, but Ross says that would make North Carolina one of the most educated states in the U.S.

“It’s a challenge,” he says. “It’s not going to be easy….But I think if we want to be the most competitive state to attract new business and to be able to meet the workforce demands that are going to be there, we need to be able to meet this goal.”

Also on the table is a potentially controversial proposal to eliminate the cap on the number of out-of-state students UNC can accept in a given year. Right now, no more than 18 percent of students in a class can be non-residents—but out-of-state students pay more in tuition, so there’s a financial incentive to bring more in. Then again, North Carolina prides itself on its constitutional commitment to educational accessibility for all residents—so there are many who object to a proposal that seems to close the door.

Ross says he’s not sure what will happen, but it’s a conversation worth having.

“We’re still at the preliminary stage, and we’ve gotten some good feedback,” he says. “Whether any discussion of removing the cap continues to be a part of the plan–I don’t know. We’re still receiving feedback on that, and there are people who feel strongly both ways.”

The Board of Governors only began considering the draft this week, but the timetable is a speedy one: the Board is planning to approve a final draft at its next meeting on February 8.