Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday that he supports the UNC system goal of producing more degree earners, but he wants students to have faster pathways to diplomas that lead to good jobs.
He said the university system’s reputation is a major recruitment tool for companies moving to North Carolina, but the competition is intensifying. Other states such as Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee are making bold moves in education, he said. Tennessee is offering all high school graduates free community college.
“They want to beat us, and I want to beat them – for the right reasons,” said McCrory, a Republican, adding: “We’ve got to continue to adapt to change, plan for change, anticipate change and lead change.”
McCrory was in Cullowhee speaking to the UNC Board of Governors. On Saturday, he’ll flip the coin at the football matchup between Western Carolina University and his alma mater, Catawba College.
In his remarks Friday, McCrory commended UNC system President Tom Ross and the UNC board for their goal of increasing the percentage of North Carolinians with a four-year degree to 32 percent by 2018.
“We must make sure that our degrees are targeted toward those areas where we get the biggest return on investment,” McCrory said.
He cited a state workforce development board survey of 800 employers, and said 44 percent of those who hired in the past year said they had difficulty finding the right skills for certain jobs.
One strategy for reaching the 32-percent goal is enrolling former students who dropped out before earning a degree – a population the university dubs “part way home” students.
“We have all these people who have put some equity into getting their degree,” the governor said. “We need to get them to finish their degree.”
McCrory suggested looking at alternatives such as compressed and online programs and credits based on demonstrated competency as opposed to time in the classroom.
“Maybe we shouldn’t take four years to get a degree,” he said. “Maybe we shouldn’t take two years to get an MBA.”
He said wants to do more to boost the commercialization of university research. A committee he has convened will make recommendations on how to draw more investors to North Carolina to compete with places such as Boston and Silicon Valley.
While North Carolina’s urban areas are thriving, McCrory said, the state’s rural towns need help.
John Fennebresque, the UNC board chairman, cited Western Carolina University as an example of a campus that has been a big boost to its region in the far western mountains. WCU has a record enrollment this fall of 10,382 students.
“We view the UNC system as the economic engine for North Carolina,” Fennebresque said, “particularly outside the big cities.”