RALEIGH — It’s been two years since Margaret Spellings took office as the president of the University of North Carolina system, overseeing its 17 campuses. As she moves into her third year, she’s focusing on building innovation and technology through the system.
“This is a time where we have this interesting paradox where almost everybody needs what we offer in American higher education,” said Spellings. “Seventy percent of the jobs require a post-secondary education after high school. The paradox is it is at a time when people are increasingly skeptical of public institutions and ask questions about the value. It’s against that backdrop that we do our work.”
With the adoption of a strategic plan for the system a year ago, each of the 17 institutions designed how they would adapt unique programs and ideas to support the overall mission of the system. The North Carolina General Assembly offered substantial support to the UNC System.
“We’ve got the best budget in 10 years from the N.C. legislature, including a major commitment to support NC Promise,” said Spellings.
The NC Promise Tuition Plan will allow the state to significantly reduce the cost of tuition at Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University. Beginning in fall 2018, the plan is designed to increase educational access, reduce student debt and grow the state’s economy.
“Applications are way up at those three institutions,” added Spellings.
According to Spellings, UNC Pembroke has seen a rise in applications by 50 percent, 18 percent at Western Carolina University and approximately 15 percent at Elizabeth City State University.
“I can’t wait to see how well this program works and commended the legislature for the $51 million investment they’ve made,” said Spellings.
“Recently, we had the second meeting of the My Future NC commission, which is an effort to bring about 30 leaders of our state together across the education sector, but also the philanthropic, faith-based and business communities to really think about how we are organized in this state to make sure the seams between pre-K to K, K-12 and the community college and public universities are coherent,” she added.
My Future NC is a statewide on educational attainment that brings together the UNC System, the North Carolina Community College System and the Department of Public Instruction.
My Future NC will bring together top North Carolina thought leaders from the education, business, philanthropy, faith-based, and nonprofit communities and ex officio representatives from the North Carolina House of Representatives, Senate, and Governor’s office to discuss state education and training needs, identify obstacles to meeting those needs, and generate policy recommendations.
The commission’s work is being underwritten by grants from the John M. Belk Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Goodnight Education Foundation.
In addition, the process of lab schools, K-8 training sites for teachers and administrators of the campuses of colleges has gotten underway. The proposed training sites, announced in 2016, include: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC Wilmington and Western Carolina University.
“We also have lab schools that are just getting started in the system with more to open,” said Spellings. “It will help provide options for parents, it will help improve our teacher prep program, and it will help our students get into real live classrooms as soon as possible.
“As this is a pilot, it will enable us to learn a lot, scale innovations and share practices. Each school will have a different approach and theory to innovation, and technology will be a big part of it,” she added.
In 2017, East Carolina University and Western Carolina University opened lab schools in partnership with their local school districts. UNC Greensboro, Appalachian State University, and UNC Wilmington plan to open lab schools in the fall of 2018.