Thorp: UNC needs to take advantage of new Sputnik moment

Posted March 22, 2012 1:49 p.m. EDT

— Chancellor Holden Thorp said Thursday that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill needs to take a hard look at how it operates and how best to change to meet future challenges.

Because the university has a two-year tuition plan in place and administrators aren't expecting major cuts to state funding as they have in recent years, Thorp said, it's important for UNC to redefine how it accomplishes its mission in the 21st century.

"We have a moment to think about the future of higher education," he told the university's Board of Trustees. "I think Carolina is in the right position to lead that conversation for the nation.”

Recalling how Sputnik, the Soviet satellite launched in 1957, ushered in an era in the U.S. of heavy investment in science education and research, Thorp said the nation is at another crossroads as changing demographics and the Internet and social media affect services like higher education.

"People are asking questions that they should ask about whether (education is) being paid for in the right way and whether it is being operated efficiently and whether it’s doing everything for America – and in our case, North Carolina – that it can,” he said.

Issues that need to be addressed include how students learn – Thorp suggested putting some lectures online so classroom time can be spent on more in-depth discussion – college access and the financial aid system, university research and balancing costs and quality.