PEMBROKE — During Margaret Spellings’ sixth visit to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the president of the University of North Carolina system delivered a state of the university address and praised UNCP and its role in nurturing opportunity for the people of Southeastern North Carolina
Spellings, who has served as president of the 17-member system for a little more than two years, spoke at UNCP’s Entrepreneurship Incubator on Friday afternoon. She praised the UNC system as “one of the finest in the nation.”
From increased research funding to higher graduation rates, UNC “is getting better every day,” she said. Thanks to the state legislature, UNC universities also have been able to keep tuition flat or lower at every institution.
At UNC Pembroke tuition is falling with the adoption of NC Promise, a guaranteed $500 a semester tuition for four years.
“Happily, North Carolina remains a national leader on college costs,” Spellings said. “And with NC Promise, it’s a leadership role that is set to grow.”
NC Promise rolls back tuition to 2007 levels, before the Great Recession.
“With NC Promise, we’ve reset the clock and put our costs back in line with what families can achieve,” Spellings said.
NC Promise is an opportunity to close the gap between rural and urban North Carolina, Spellings said.
“Our region, from southern Virginia to Mississippi, is struggling with (social and economic) mobility,” she said. “That reality is all too real here in Robeson County, and across Southeastern North Carolina.
“But we know we can change that. Groundbreaking new national data confirms that public universities, especially highly accessible institutions like Pembroke, do remarkable work in lifting low-come students to a better life.”
Mobility is both an access and a student success issue, and it is a community impact issue, she said.
“The jobs created by UNCP’s business school alumni, the healthcare provided by your nurses and social workers, the new industries spun out of your incubators, and by researchers across the system, they improve the quality of life for everyone, not just the students who study here.”
In a press conference after the speech, Spellings said NC Promise will build a “world-class” student body at UNCP.
The university’s recent “BraveStep” agreement with Robeson Community College will put students who may not be ready for a four-year college on the path to UNCP, said Robin Gary Cummings, UNCP chancellor.
Paying for a college education should not be a “high-stakes gamble for our most vulnerable students,” Spellings said.
Investment in progress should not come without accountability, the UNC president said. A shot at the American dream will go for naught unless the universities “execute and hold ourselves accountable for doing so.”
“What we do is legitimately hard to measure, and many of the benefits we bring to individuals and the broader society take a long time to mature,” Spellings said. “So, we’ve told people to trust us.”
Spellings, who is the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, believes in accountability, and to that end, she has signed agreements with all 17 UNC leaders, including Cummings, to achieve measurable outcomes.
“Here at Pembroke, Chancellor Cummings has crafted a performance plan focused on getting more students across the finish line,” she said.
UNCP has committed to increasing its graduation rate by six percentage points, graduating 20 percent more rural and 30 percent more low-income students, while helping students to earlier graduation dates and producing 30 percent more graduates in the critical areas of teaching, healthcare and sciences, technology, engineering and math.
In the third part of her state of the university speech, Spellings talked about living up to the historic missions of UNC and UNCP. She called it “our most fundamental goal.”
“Our students are paying attention to us,” she said. “They’re watching how we lead and govern, how we engage in public debate, how we adapt to the needs of our time.
“It’s up to us to show that public institutions are an ally in the effort to make a better world, that public service is honorable and effective, that trust in our fellow citizens and faith in the country that unites us is vital to any visions of real progress.”
The UNC system’s job is “to enable good work,” she said, “to provide opportunity to every North Carolinian and ensure economic mobility.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]