Education is the ticket to the American dream, and the state’s universities can do more to help students realize those dreams, UNC system President Margaret Spellings said Thursday.
Businesses also can help, Spellings told a gathering of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.
The former president of the National Chamber of Commerce Foundation also has served as U.S. Secretary of Education, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and president and CEO of Margaret Spellings & Company.
“Help a student, help three students, get those experiences that help them figure out how they can use their work and use their education, applying it in the real world,” Spellings said.
She pointed out the 17-campus university system is less expensive than many others in the nation and has higher graduation rates and “a proud legacy.”
“I think sometimes we in higher education forget that there is an incredibly strong state investment in this institution, which really is a testament to the vote of confidence that this legislature and every legislature prior, as well as the citizens of this state, place in this institution,” she said.
There are big gaps, however, for poor, minority and rural students in struggling K-12 schools – even for those with talent and high scores, she said. The state is no longer on the leading edge in student success initiatives, school reform, data, transparency and accountability, she added.
“So we’re wasting a ton of human capital, a ton of potential in the state that is going to be required to drive our state forward. We’re leaving behind thousands of students in our state, which is such a waste of talent. This is at a time when our state is growing ... and we’re also growing more diverse,” Spellings said.
She pointed to the UNC system Board of Governors’ new strategic plan as a way to promote access, success and affordability by seeking “innovative approaches.” That includes a bigger role for technology, more focused ways to measure results and each school’s unique mission, she said.
The state’s historically black colleges and universities can help even more rural, poor and minority students find success, she said, as can three N.C. Promise schools. The N.C. Promise program charges $500 a semester for in-state students attending UNC Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University and Western Carolina University; out-of-state students pay $2,500 a semester.
“It will drive certainly attendance at those institutions for students who are value shoppers and who obviously seek opportunity,” she said.
The UNC and community college systems also could work better together, Spellings said, in response to a question from Durham Tech President Bill Ingram. Transfer students face a complex financial aid process and different application requirements at each four-year school, she said. The process of transferring community college credits earned to a four-year school also could be improved, she said.
She also welcomes other providers who can give students an educational foundation, Spellings noted.
“I’m not afraid of Western Governors University (a private, online nonprofit) or for-profits,” she said. “Heck, if we can’t compete with them, shame on us.”