Chapel Hill, N.C. — The University of North Carolina system must work smarter to meet the needs of the state in the coming years, according to a five-year strategic plan.
The UNC Board of Governors approved the plan Friday.
"The world in which we live is changing rapidly and profoundly," UNC President Tom Ross told the board Thursday as they reviewed a final draft of the plan. "(This) will make us more competitive both nationally and internationally."
The five goals outlined in the plan are to increase the number of college graduates statewide, to strengthen academic quality, to serve the people of North Carolina, to maximize efficiencies and to ensure an accessible and affordable education.
To achieve those goals, the plan calls for more technology in the classroom, a wider array of online courses, a greater investment in "game-changing research" and increased standardization across the system.
The plan already drew some criticism from Board of Governors members who questioned its lack of attention to the UNC system's role in North Carolina's agriculture industry and its commitment to academic freedom.
"Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in our state, and we have not addressed this in the plan," board Vice Chairman Frank Grainger said.
"In this document, I did not see the words 'academic freedom,'" board member Charles Mercer said. "Without freedom, there can be no university. I know we’re all committed to that."
Ross said the plan will continue to evolve, and improvements will be made. He said faculty input was considered when drafting the plan and that curriculum changes wouldn't occur without their involvement.
Carrying out the plan is expected to cost $910 million over existing appropriations for the 17-campus university system, which have been cut in recent years.
"This is a plan we think is a good investment for the state," Ross said. "If (lawmakers) were to appropriate the resources we're asking for, we'll return in real dollars to the economy much more than we're asking for."
Gov. Pat McCrory last week launched a debate into the relevance of liberal arts education, saying funding for higher education should be based on how easily graduates can obtain jobs rather than on "butts in seats."
The strategic plan calls for tying funding more closely to campus performance in operational efficiency and academic achievement, but Ross said that doesn't signal the end of any liberal arts majors.
"To prepare students who have critical thinking skills, that have the ability to write and communicate orally, that understand how to use data and work in teams, I think that prepares people for jobs in the future," he said. "Some of our majors have a direct pathway to a job; some do not. It doesn’t mean the education doesn’t have value."