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.