UNC System President Margaret Spellings is raising the bar for the state’s campus leaders.
In a State of the University speech at UNC Charlotte attended by several lawmakers and members of the Board of Governors, Spellings said the 17 chancellors have signed “customized performance agreements … all of them embracing measurable outcomes as a route to excellence.”
She cited the agreement signed by UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois, who developed a plan to graduate 30% more low-income students by 2022, grow research funding by 44% and increase the number of students graduating within five years by 6 percentage points. UNC Charlotte has accounted for as much as half of the systems’ enrollment growth over the last decade.
After her speech, Spellings said similar pacts have not existed in the past. She emphasized her focus on data-driven decisions and clear goals rather than relying on “random acts of kindness.”
While UNC is regarded as among the most prestigious public systems in the U.S., state lawmakers and system board members are pressing for more accountability and greater cooperation between campuses and with the state’s community-college system. Spellings, who had not worked in North Carolina before taking her post in March 2016, has worked to develop closer ties with the N.C. General Assembly and the UNC board. While praising the General Assembly for providing UNC with the most support in a decade, she has urged the board to not micromanage.
UNC is also developing an online dashboard system that will enable the public to see progress at each campus. Asked what would happen if objectives weren’t met, Spellings said it will depend on the extent of the miss.
Spellings emphasized UNC’s role in improving the fortunes of lower-income North Carolinians.
“Economic mobility is the defining issue of our time,” she said. ”If you look at a map of economic mobility across the country, our region — from southern Virginia through Mississippi — is an unhappy outlier. Children born into poverty in the South have strikingly low odds of bettering their lives. In North Carolina, our metro areas rank among the very worst in the nation for upward mobility. And right now, Charlotte is at the bottom of that list.”
To attract more students with limited means, UNC is restraining tuition increases, even though the system remains among the lowest-priced in the nation. She credits “stronger-than-average taxpayer support — providing a remarkable two-thirds of our instructional costs.”
Spellings noted that a student from a family in the bottom income quintile who enrolls at UNC Charlotte is nearly six times more likely to reach the top income quintile than a student who doesn’t pursue higher education.
“I’m not a believer in college-for-all, and I don’t know any university president who is,” she said. “But I am a believer in education and training beyond high school for nearly everyone, whether that’s in school, on the job, or through military service.”
A former U.S. Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration, Spellings’ annual performance review is scheduled this week.