Commentary, Education, Higher Ed, Legislature

Editorial: Despite controversy, UNC system has high marks among alumni

UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith

Despite a reactionary Board of Governors that’s struggled mightily in its erratic handling of Silent Sam, picked bizarre fights with its administrators, frightened its own leaders out the door, and, most recently, traipsed heedlessly over open meetings laws, a recent Gallup survey found UNC alumni overwhelmingly believe their education in the 16-campus system has been a boon.

The Winston-Salem Journal‘s editorial board applauded the poll’s results this weekend, but warned that the omnipresent controversy swirling about the system’s controlling board may soon be a hindrance.

The paper’s right. UNC leaders need a swift reappraisal of their priorities, coincidentally the priorities of an extraordinarily right-wing state legislature. North Carolina is, all things considered, a purple state, but its brain-trust on the BOG and in the legislature governs deep in the red.

Read on for the paper’s editorial:

Alumni of the University of North Carolina system are in a better position than most people to judge how good a job the system’s 16 schools are doing.

Across the state, there are always plenty of people ready to criticize this or that in the system and fret over how much it all costs. But if you want the insight of those who in a position to know, ask people who studied at one of the schools and who have drawn on that experience as they make their way through adult life.

That’s why the positive results of a recent Gallup survey of 77,695 UNC system alumni are worthy of attention.

An impressive 64% of those who responded to the survey said they strongly agreed that their undergraduate education was worth its cost. By way of comparison, that’s 11% better than among similar alumni groups from public institutions across the country, and 14% better than among graduates of all colleges.

Responses of UNC system alumni also showed why they feel so strongly that their education was worthwhile: They’ve put the education to good use. They have higher than average rates of advanced degrees after college, and their average personal and household income figures are considerably higher than those of college graduates across the nation.

So, controversies and rising costs notwithstanding, that’s pretty strong evidence that the UNC system is doing a good job and making a difference in the lives of the people who study there.

There is one cloud worth noting in this otherwise rosy report. The respondents to the survey were older and whiter than the total population of alumni, about 77% white and with an average age of 48. It would be useful to hear from more minority alums, and from younger graduates.

Gallup officials said that the skewed results were typical: those are the groups that tend to be more responsive to surveys, and it happens everywhere, so national comparisons are still valid.

In practical terms, what do these positive results mean? They should mean that taxpayers, legislators and other leaders will see how important it is to make a UNC system education accessible to as many people as possible. These results are strong arguments for working to keep tuition affordable and to offer financial aid for deserving students who might not go to college otherwise.

The positive results are also reason to continue to invest in the people and facilities that make a UNC education so worthwhile.

And this evidence that the UNC system has been doing a lot right, for a long time, makes a strong case that legislators and the UNC Board of Governors should work to attract good administrators and then let them do their jobs.

The positive survey results are definitely not a reason to be complacent and think that the university system will continue to be successful no matter what. Attempts by the board and legislators to micromanage the universities, tinker with the curriculum and demand that schools be run as businesses will take their toll on outcomes and attitudes. So will turmoil of the sort we’ve seen with three top system administrators leaving in the first three months of this year.

The Gallup survey is strong evidence that, over the last several decades, North Carolina’s university system has served its people well.

Let’s do all we can to build on that strong foundation.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Higher Ed, Legislature, News

The week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Proposed legislation would dramatically weaken state hog farm oversight

A sentence here, a paragraph there. A strike-through, a repeal, a new section.

Individually, the Farm Act and the House and Senate budgets chip away at the incremental yet significant progress the state has made toward regulating industrialized livestock operations.

But taken in total, a half-dozen provisions create a safe house where these operations, particularly swine farms, can clandestinely conduct their business.

“It’s a coordinated and multi-pronged attack,” on laws protecting the environment and public health, said Will Hendrick, attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance. [Read more…]

Bonus read: The Farm Act, state budget are “erecting a fortress for the hog industry”

2. New app will allow North Carolina students to share anonymous tips about school threats

Middle-and high-school students across North Carolina will have an opportunity to download a new app next school year that allows them to anonymously report threats to school safety.

The “Say Something” reporting system will be offered to tens of thousands of students via a partnership between the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit based in Newtown, Connecticut that’s led by people who lost loved ones in the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 28 people dead.

“Students play a critical role in helping to keep schools safe,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said during a press conference Thursday. “They may see and hear concerns that adults need to know about but may be reluctant to report it.” [Read more…]

3. Teachers would get 3.5 percent pay raise under proposed N.C. Senate budget

Teachers would get an average 3.5 percent pay raise over the next two years under a biennium spending plan released Tuesday by state Republican leaders.

The plan calls for spending $23.9 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year, and it increases spending on public education by $1.3 billion over the next two years.

Senate leaders told reporters the pay increase would raise the average teacher salary to $54,500 per year over the biennium.[Read more…]

4. Senate budget writers to their “Trump country” constituents: “Drop dead”

In case you missed it, there was new confirmation this week that the people being disproportionately harmed by the refusal of North Carolina Republican senators to include Medicaid expansion in the budget bill they plan to adopt today are — wait for it — their own constituents.

It’s been common knowledge for a long time that lower-income rural communities are among the areas that suffer most from having high rates of uninsured residents, but a recent news story from our neighboring state of Virginia really brings this fact home.

This is from a Tuesday story in the Virginia Mercury entitled “Trump Country sees majority of new enrollees under Va.’s Medicaid expansion”:[Read more…]

Bonus video: Senate ignores Medicaid expansion in budget; Berger says it ‘disincentivizes folks to go to work’ (video)

5. Five basic truths to remember this week about the state budget

It’s one of the great and maddening ironies of the state lawmaking process in North Carolina that the single most important piece of legislation each year is perhaps the most poorly reported and one of the least well-understood.

Every year, as the fiscal year winds down toward its June 30 conclusion, state lawmakers birth a new state budget bill that runs to hundreds of pages and includes all sorts of fundamental decisions about state funding priorities and tax policy, not to mention scores of so-called “special provisions” (i.e. law changes unrelated to the budget that may or may not have been debated previously as the subject of another bill).[Read more…]

6. Hofeller files: GOP mapmaker helped develop Trump’s citizenship Census question

The master mapmaker behind North Carolina’s most contentious and allegedly gerrymandered voting districts apparently also played a role in developing the citizenship question proposed for the 2020 Census by the Trump administration.

Thomas Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon recently turned over several of his hard drives and digital files to voting rights group Common Cause as part of discovery in their North Carolina state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. The news released Thursday about Hofeller’s involvement in the 2020 Census question is the first bit of data released publicly from the “Hofeller files.” [Read more…]

Bonus Read: ACLU notifies US Supreme Court of new evidence in citizenship question case

7. Not so open: Critics say UNC Board of Governors excludes the public from its “public” meetings

Hoping to hear some discussion of the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, Lindsay Ayling and a few other UNC-Chapel Hill students attempted to attend last week’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors.

Attempted, as it turns out, was the operative word.

Before the meeting began, while most of the seats in the board room were still empty, Ayling and two other students were told there was no room for them. All the chairs in the room – even the ones that appeared to be empty – were reserved in advance, they were told by campus police.[Read more…]


8. State budget, new scientific tests shine a light on NC’s growing drinking water pollution problem

PFAS contamination found in both Jones and Orange counties

Maysville, which sits on the rim of the Croatan National Forest in Jones County, is home to 1,000 people — about half of whom rely on the town’s sole drinking water well.

And that well, according to a brief sentence in the both the House and Senate versions of the state budget, is contaminated.

But the budget doesn’t say contaminated with what, only that Maysville needs $500,000 to construct a new public supply. [Read more…]

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Education, Higher Ed, NC Budget and Tax Center

Reaching our state’s educational attainment goal

At this time of year, graduation stories are ever-present, yet their broader meaning to the strength of our economy is less discussed, as are the real barriers to completion that many young people face.

The research is clear that states with large numbers of bachelor’s degree holders have higher median wage levels than other states, according to the Economic Policy Institute. An advanced education also helps make workers more upwardly mobile in North Carolina. The Working Poor Families Project reports that the median earned income for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $18,000 higher than for someone with only a high school diploma.

Recognizing these real economic and community benefits, state leaders through the myFutureNC commission have set a post-secondary attainment goal that by 2030, two-thirds of North Carolinians aged 25 to 44  will hold a post-secondary degree, with a commitment to ensure that workers are acquiring skills and credentials that align with the goals of the state.

One overlooked source of people who can help North Carolina reach its goal are the Dreamers who have been educated here in North Carolina and are blocked from a pathway to post-secondary attainment due to their arrival to this country without documentation, as well as the lack of a tuition equity policy in our state.  Dreamers seeking to attend college in North Carolina are forced to pay out-of-state tuition – often 300 percent higher than the in-state tuition their peers pay – despite having spent their childhoods enrolled in North Carolina schools. In recognition of the inequity this creates, 21 states across the country have set up policies that recognize the investment that young people have in their educational futures and that communities have made in their education to date.

Estimates based on new data from the Migration Policy Institute suggest that, in North Carolina, an expanded tuition equity policy could benefit at least 1,470 graduates each year.

In a brief we released earlier today, Lissette Guerrero looks at the already significant economic contributions of all foreign-born workers and notes the critical role that post-secondary attainment and access to skills training for adult workers could provide in further boosting the economic and community contributions of these workers.

Indeed, as we have written about in the past on the topic of tuition equity, tuition equity can improve educational opportunities for young people in North Carolina and in turn boost employment outcomes and the productivity and growth of industries and the broader economy.

Tuition equity led to a 31 percent increase in college enrollment for undocumented students and a 33 percent increase in the proportion of Mexican young adults with a college degree in the states that adopted the policy. In addition, the average high school dropout rate decreased by 7 percentage points—from 42 percent to 35 percent—in states with tuition equity.

As yesterday’s Undocugraduation event demonstrated, the potential of young Dreamers is vast and important and to continue to block these youth from accessing post-secondary education would  put that potential to waste.

Higher Ed, News

Gallup survey examines alumni views on value of UNC system education

At its Tuesday work session, the UNC Board of Governors heard a report on a Gallup survey of 77,695 alumni from all 16 University of North Carolina system schools.

The survey measured outcomes for alumni of UNC system schools — their employment, income levels, feeling of connection to their university and views on the value of their UNC education.

Overall, the results were very positive.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they strongly agreed their undergraduate education was worth the cost. That’s 11 percent higher than comparison groups from public institutions nationally and 14 percent higher than all college graduates nationally.

Respondents in the survey were also more likely to have pursued advanced degrees. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they ad completed postgraduate degrees.

Personal and household incomes were also higher among UNC system respondents.

The average annual personal income for UNC system alumni in the survey was $86,291 and the average household income $124,512. That’s more than $10,000 higher than college graduates nationally and higher than respondents from both public institutions and private, not-for-profit institutions.

“To me, this is the story we should have broadcast to the people of our state,” said UNC Board of Governors member Anna Spangler Nelson. “This is a tremendous value – we know it, we say it. This proves it.”

But board member Darrell Allison, one of the board’s few black members, had some questions about the demographic makeup of respondents.

Gallup confirmed that respondents to the survey skewed older and whiter —  77 percent white with the average age about 48.

 

Stephanie Marken, executive director of Education Research for Gallup, said those demographics reflect groups that tend to respond more to surveys and for whom universities tend to have contact information to provide to Gallup.

“We are looking at all living alumni for which they have contact information,” Marken said. “The university now would look very different demographically than it does historically. If we look at more recent graduates in our national sample they tend to be more diverse the younger we get.”

But that is the case across comparable studies using the same mode of contact, Marken said, which also use web-based surveys. That keeps the comparisons accurate.

“We use a very similar methodology when doing our national surveys, so we can compare,” Marken said.

The respondents skewing older as a whole does tend to affect questions like whether alumni believe their degree was worth the cost, Marken said. Older alumni have had more time to apply their degrees, take advantage of career opportunities, to advance and make more money, she said.

Gallup did break out data by individual institutions and provided that data to the institutions this week.

“I would say that we’re very pleased with it overall,” Smith said of the survey, though he did say he would like to see the respondents be more diverse and more reflective of the university’s actual diversity.

“But there has not traditionally been a lot of real world data that we’ve gotten, a lot of benchmarks we can look at,” Smith said. “We have to make decisions here and we want to have the fact, data and detail when we make them. We’re in the changing lives business. We want to be doing it as efficiently as we can. So when we get data that shows the UNC system is doing truly great things, that’s a great thing. It also helps us benchmark how we can get better.”

Read the full report on the survey here.

Higher Ed, News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Study: College students prefer free tuition to prestigious degrees

A new study released this week gives some interesting insights into college students’ views on the rising cost of tuition and the value of degrees from prestigious universities.

College Pulse conducted the poll of 8,887 students currently attending four-year colleges or universities across the United States.

One of its most interesting findings: 67 percent of college students would prefer “free tuition at a university nobody has heard of” to “full tuition at a prestigious university.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the answers reveal interesting sociological layers when broken down by race and ethnicity.

Black students were most likely (74 percent) to say they would prefer free tuition at an unknown university to full tuition at a prestigious one. White and Latinx students both said they preferred free tuition at about 67 percent. Native American or American Indian students preferred the idea of free tuition at 56 percent and Asian respondents 49 percent.

The study comes as the cost of tuition — and college loan forgiveness — has become a major issue in the Democratic primary for president.

It’s also an issue with which the UNC system and UNC Board of Governors has been struggling the last few  years.

Studies have shown that tuition hikes reduce diversity at universities.

When the N.C. legislature approved dropping tuition at some UNC schools to $500 a semester last year, there were a lot of concerns – lost revenue, the perceived value of a degree, what it would mean for the schools’ reputations to suddenly and explicitly become “value” universities.

Two historically black colleges – including Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State – opted out.

At the three universities that ultimately became part of the initial NC Promise tuition program –  Elizabeth City State UniversityUniversity of North Carolina at Pembroke and  Western Carolina University  – there are still concerns among some students, faculty, staff and even administrators.

UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robert Gary Cumming has praised the program.