Since the first public university opened its doors here in 1795, higher education in North Carolina has been of the people, for the people and by the people. I’ve already witnessed that unique pride of ownership.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked to continue that long tradition as they decide the outcome of the Connect NC bond referendum.
Especially in this election year, it can sometimes feel as if there is more to divide us from our friends and neighbors than to unite us. But as a recent poll indicated, an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support the bond issue. That’s because education is a consensus issue that reminds people from all walks of life of the hopes we share for the future.
As a newcomer to North Carolina, I’m doing a lot of listening and learning, including visiting every institution in the UNC system in my first 100 days. As I spend time with our extraordinary students, faculty, staff and community leaders, I’m hearing a lot about the need to make higher education more accessible and affordable.
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At the same time, I’m witnessing firsthand the distinctiveness of each of our universities, their contributions to the greater good and the many ways in which faculty and staff are supporting and mentoring students to prepare them for the global economy. As one student at Fayetteville State told me, “I don’t feel like a number here.”
The bond issue will provide $1.3 billion to support new facilities and much-needed renovations at our universities and community colleges, along with $700 million for farming and agriculture, state parks, clean water and sewer projects and National Guard facilities.
I’m far from the only one to be drawn to North Carolina for its visionary approach to higher education or to benefit from the improved quality of life that our universities provide. Two million people have joined me in moving here since 2000, and North Carolina is expected to grow by another 2 million by 2030.
The Connect NC bond issue will help our universities adapt to meet the diverse needs of the state and will create up to 5,000 jobs each year for the next five years.
I’m looking forward to voting for the bond issue in my first election as a North Carolinian, and I hope my fellow residents will turn out to do the same and continue our centuries of support for higher education.
I’m also looking forward to meeting new people around the state.
In the March 1 Point of View “Welcoming our new neighbor,” UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Jim Heavner graciously welcomed me to the area and asked if I would mind being called by my first name. I wouldn’t mind at all. If you see me at the polls, on your campus or in your community, I hope you’ll call me Margaret. I bet we have a lot in common.
President, University of North Carolina system
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the issue.