CHAPEL HILL – As she prepares to depart next month as President of the University of North Carolina System, Margaret Spellings can point to both accomplishments and challenges during her three years in the job.
“I’m proudest of the strategic plan that we put in place,” Spellings says in the accompanying video.
The plan – which seeks to improve rural and low-income enrollment and completion – has been embraced by each of the University’s 17 institutions and has clear metrics.
“It really is anchoring our work,” Spellings says.
“It allows us … to stay focused on rural achievement, on low-income enrollment, on attainment, on graduation rates, on research productivity, on needed degrees in STEM fields and education and health care. So it really puts great focus on the needs of our state and its students.
“And we’re making progress,” she says.
Officials announced last week that the systemwide graduation rate has improved to 70% – 8% higher than the national average – in just one year of the plan’s implementation. The System has, in fact, surpassed its one-year goals in 11 of 12 metrics adopted in the strategic plan.
Spellings notes that one strategy is to build better connections between universities and community colleges “so that we have on-ramps from community college into the university and ultimately into the workforce that really work so well for our students.”
Asked about her greatest challenges, Spellings cites governance. Too many educational institutions operate in silos, she says, pointing to myFutureNC – an effort that brings together education, political, business, nonprofit and faith leaders to establish a shared statewide attainment goal.
“That’s what myFutureNC is about – breaking those things down, being more efficient, being more user- and student-oriented,” she says.
She also notes the complex structures of the UNC and community college systems, with large numbers of UNC Board of Governors members, trustees, chancellors and presidents.
“One of the things I think we need to really make sure we’re paying attention to is: Have we aligned authority and accountability so that we can empower our managers, our executives and hold them accountable to meet results, but make sure that we’ve got the right calibration of governance and policy-making and implementation and executing?” she says.