UNC System President Praises NC Senate Budget Proposals

UNC System President Tom Ross issued a statement today praising the NC State Senate’s Draft Budget for 2014-2015.

Here’s the text of Ross’s statement:

“The 2014-15 draft state budget released by the Senate Appropriations Committee offers clear evidence that the North Carolina Senate understands the critical role our public universities must continue to play in North Carolina’s economic future.

“Given the needs facing the State, we are grateful that the Senate budget recognizes the need to invest in areas that are key to the future of the university, as highlighted in our strategic plan.

“We support the efforts of legislative leaders to fund salary increases for state workers and look forward to working with them to address compensation issues for University faculty and staff.

While the budget process is far from complete, the Senate budget marks an important step forward for our students and our State, and it demonstrates support that is crucial as the University strives to remain the most valuable asset owned by the people of North Carolina. “

The proposed budget provides a recurring $1,000 annual salary-and-benefit increase for all full-time employees subject to the State Personnel Act.

There’s also a push in the Senate for UNC to dissolve “small, unprofitable institutions” such as Elizabeth City State University, which has seen enrollment drop from 3,307 in 2011 to 2,421 students in 2013.

Eight-one-point-five percent of the school’s students are African-American.

WCHL has reached out to UNC System President Tom Ross for comment about Elizabeth City State, and we’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: UNC Vice President for Communications Joni B. Worthington sent WCHL a follow-up email that reads:

“For clarification, this draft budget provision, which may or may not be included in the final state budget, would require the UNC Board of Governors to study the feasibility of dissolving any constituent institution that fell below a specified enrollment threshold and to report its findings and recommendations to the 2015 General Assembly.

“With respect to Elizabeth City State University, UNC General Administration is continuing to work with the campus to address budget challenges, stabilize and build enrollment, and tailor degree offerings to fit its current enrollment and regional needs.

“We consider ECSU a vital member of the UNC system and critical to northeastern North Carolina’s economic and cultural well-being. “


UNC System to Receive Award for Online Integrity

CHAPEL HILL – There is concern academic integrity is at stake when students take online classes; but the University of North Carolina is being applauded for the way it challenged this concern.

Maggie O’hara is the Director of E-learning for UNC. She says balancing the convenience of online course examinations, with the integrity often found in monitored classroom examinations can be a challenge.

“Proctoring is a strong preventative measure for academic integrity violations, and it helps to insure online students’ integrity, but it’s not full proof,” O’hara says.

But the 17-campus UNC system has accepted the challenge to find a way to protect the integrity of online courses. And with a new award to put on the shelf, it appears they’ve beat that challenge.

UNC will receive the 2013 WCET Outstanding Work Award from the Western Interstate Commission for standardizing the test proctoring process, which protects academic integrity of students who take courses online.

O’hara talked to us about the online examinations’ original issues. She says students were always required to find a proctor, but there was no streamlined selection process.

O’hara says, “You can imagine with a class of 30 students, the students all sending out emails saying, ‘Is this proctor acceptable?’And then the faculty member emailing the proctor saying, ‘Can you tell me a little about yourself.’ It would take a couple hundred emails to set up proctors for 30 students.”

So they found a way to simplify the process for everyone.

“In an effort to automate this process, this system was created,” O’hara says: “It simplifies things with one vetting process. The vetting is done consistently. So the students know that once the proctor’s out there and licensed, they are able to use them.”

This system is not currently used at UNC-Chapel Hill, because they don’t have as big of an e-learning program as other UNC system schools. But it’s expected to be used in the near future.


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.