UNC system has 11 new goals for WCU and other universities

This story was written by Quintin Ellison, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

The UNC system’s strategic plan “aligns nicely” with Western Carolina University’s historic mission of serving first-generation mountain students, with a new statewide emphasis on enrolling more low-income and rural students while ensuring timely graduation, according to Chancellor David Belcher.

By August, WCU and the 16 other UNC campuses must have detailed blueprints for meeting 11 mandated goals. These were built around access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement and excellent and diverse institutions. Success must be measurable, using “baseline data, metrics and targets,” according to the Board of Governors’ January-adopted requirements.

WCU’s traditional focus is on helping mountain students become the first in their families to go to college. With NC Promise starting in fall 2018, WCU leaders already were discussing how to preserve this institutional mission. Under the NC Promise program, in-state students will pay $500 in-state tuition, not today’s $1,946 semester cost; and out-of-state students will pay $2,500, not $7,143 per semester. WCU leaders anticipate a bump in student applications.

Last week, the Board of Governors tied UNC President Margaret Spellings’ bonuses to the system’s strategic plan. The emphasis on achievement is trickling down, according to Belcher.

“Margaret Spellings and I will sign, in blood, our targets around these goals,” he told the WCU Board of Trustees in a recent meeting.

UNC leaders must:

▪ Increase enrollment of low-income students by 13 percent from fall 2015 levels.

▪ Boost enrollment of students from poorer counties, those that are state-designated either Tier 1 or Tier 2, by 11 percent from fall 2016 levels. This would include the six westernmost counties (all Tier 1), but not Haywood County (Tier 3).

▪ Grow the number of low-income graduates to 36 percent from 2015-16 levels.

▪ Grow the number of graduates from Tier 1 or Tier 2 counties by 20 percent from 2015-16 levels.

▪ Limit tuition rate increases for in-state students to no more than the increase in median family income in North Carolina, based on a three-year average.

▪ Improve the transition from K-12 to college. A working group will make recommendations next year.

▪ Increase the number of students who graduate within five years by 5.1 percentage points, to 70 percent, plus narrow the achievement gap.

▪ Increase graduates by 25 percent in health sciences, K-12 teachers and science, technology, engineering and math from 2015-16 levels.

▪ Increase revenue from research grants and licensing awards by $275 million while working on “commercialization of technologies.”

▪ Develop a plan to help a distressed county (Tier 1 or Tier 2).

▪ Identify potential “academic areas of distinction.” By May, universities must detail how leaders intend to achieve significant regional or national recognition in chosen areas. “Such an area could be a discipline, but I anticipate good conversations about cross-disciplinary themes. Such as, perhaps, leadership,” Belcher said.