CHAPEL HILL – It seems so simple – yet not everyone seems to get it.

“A better educated state benefits us all,” begins Higher Expectations, the University of North Carolina System’s new strategic plan for 2017-22.

“That basic truth has guided North Carolina for centuries.  It drives our commitment to public education, including our constitutional mandate to keep higher education affordable,” the plan continues.

The plan notes that while North Carolina invented public higher education, it faces new challenges.

“A quality, affordable education has never been more important.  Our state is growing, and growing more diverse.  Changes in our economy and our society are demanding more of our citizens — broader skills, deeper knowledge, and greater competitiveness.

“Every North Carolinian deserves the opportunity to rise and thrive.”1

In the accompanying video, UNC System President Margaret Spellings elaborates on her vision to raise achievement levels across the state.

“We in American higher education … are being asked to do something that we’ve never really had to as fully as we need to now,” Spellings says.

“And that is, educate many more people to much higher levels – and particularly those people who have not accessed higher education before:  Poor students, minority students, first-generation students, rural students.  So that is our core mission in 2017,” she says.

“When I say, ‘We can make higher education our higher expectation,’ I mean that the new standard for life and for successful economic mobility is at least 16 years of education – a college credential, an associate’s degree, a baccalaureate or greater.”

Higher Expectations has five broad themes:

  • Access:  The UNC system must continue its proud heritage of access and student diversity.
  • Affordability and Efficiency:  Ensure a UNC education is within the financial means of all in the state.
  • Student Success:  Increase degree attainment and ensure value and relevance for students.
  • Economic Impact and Community Engagement:  Deepening partnerships that strengthen local communities and the state’s economy.
  • Excellent and Diverse Institutions:  Help institutions achieve excellence within individual missions.2

For Spellings, those aims are entirely realistic.

“It’s not beyond our capability at all,” she says.  “We need to really raise our expectation of all of our citizens:  Rural, first-generation, minority, urban, you name it.  That’s the work of an American higher education system.  And it’s work that we can do.”

1, Introduction, p. 4.

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