Our top higher-education stories of 2018 fell into several broad categories:
The year saw large questions of leadership and governance raised but not always answered.
In May, the NC Board of Community Colleges named Peter Hans – a former board member with extensive experience in both community colleges and universities – as the new President of the NC Community College System.
Governance of our state’s public universities remained an issue, however. In August, 10 former members of the UNC Board of Governors questioned micromanagement by the current board, as evidenced by one member’s interference in the search for a new chancellor at Western Carolina University.
And in November, UNC System President Margaret Spellings announced she will depart the position this month – a true loss for North Carolina. The Board of Governors named Dr. William Roper, who has served as CEO of UNC HealthCare and Dean of the UNC School of Medicine, as Interim President.
In August, the Higher Education Works Foundation launched “Where We Stand” – a set of data that shows how North Carolina is underinvesting in education, from pre-kindergarten to the university, and has yet to recover to pre-recession levels of spending per student.
Protesters at UNC Chapel Hill toppled the controversial Silent Sam Confederate monument in August, prompting an as-yet-unresolved debate over the statue’s future. Restricted by a state law that places strict limits on moving “objects of remembrance,” the university’s Board of Trustees recommended a plan for moving the monument that was rejected by the UNC Board of Governors.
There are some signs of progress, however. In the fall, NC Promise – in-state tuition of $500 a semester – was launched at Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State universities, increasing enrollment at all three universities..
In December, Spellings announced that in a single year, the UNC System raised its five-year graduation rate to 70% – well above the national average of 62% for public institutions.
And throughout the year, the myFutureNC Commission – a collection of leaders from the business, political, nonprofit and faith communities – also continued its work to set an attainment goal for more North Carolinians to secure degrees or high-quality credentials.
We also continued our “What Makes a Great University” series, with visits that revealed what makes our state’s public universities great and what it will take to make them greater.