The University of North Carolina’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions met for the first time Wednesday, spending the day hearing about the overall university system in the education system and changing demographics in the state.
While the formation of the committee itself has drawn criticism for a sizable contingent of conservative business leaders in the state, Wednesday’s daylong meeting had few, if any, sparks.
The group’s task is to give a strategic mission for the 17 universities that are part of the University of North Carolina system.
The 31-member panel included members well-known for their criticism of the university system, including Variety Wholesaler owner and mega-funder of N.C. conservative causes Art Pope. Fred Eshelman, a Wilmington pharmaceutical executive and big UNC and Republican donor, is also on the committee.
The majority of the panel are white men – seven women sit on the committee and four minorities.
Wednesday’s daylong meeting consisted of a handful of presentations describing the university systems previous direction, changing demographics in the state and a five-year fiscal outlook of state revenues.
UNC President Tom Ross said at the start of the meeting that the goals were to deliver a strategic mission that positions the state for economic success.
“We want to make sure we’re doing our part to spur the economy,” Ross said “Are we producing enough graduates? How can we allocate our resources most effectively to address these issues?”
But Ross added that the goal is not solely to create an educational system that purely churns out a workforce, and emphasized the need to keep in mind the constitutional requirement that public higher education be as close to free as possible.
“We all know higher education is about more than the pursuit of a job credential,” he said.
The bulk of the work will likely be done in future meetings, with a January due date looming for the committee to deliver a report to the university system’s board of governors.
“What we’re trying to do here is include leaders of the business, government and the university community,” said Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors. Hans said the committee won’t be pedaling ideology, but will be talking about what needs to happen in the state’s universities to respond to the changing economy in North Carolina.
Hans said he and UNC President Tom Ross are still debating whether or not to hold sessions for public input.
Committee members heard from James Johnson, a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler business school who studies the state’s demographics. Johnson spoke about an achievement gap, and future chances of employment, between males and females in the state as well as the baby boomer generation that will soon be exiting the labor force.
North Carolina, and the South as a whole, has seen some of the largest influxes in population with new residents coming from other parts of the country and other nations, Johnson said.
Part of the challenge, Johnson said, is the states continue diversification and making sure the universities meet the demands of these growing communities.
The committee next meets on Oct. 24.