The president of the University of North Carolina System praised Fayetteville State University during a “State of the University” speech Monday.
Margaret Spellings, who has led the UNC system for about two years, also said during the presentation at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum that a program that reduces the cost of tuition at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and two other universities is scheduled to begin this fall. State officials, she saidm probably will want to see how the program works before looking at whether FSU or other schools should participate.
Spellings talked about the issues facing higher education.
FSU provides access to higher education for students who can make a difference in their upward mobility, which Spellings called "the defining issue of our time." The Fayetteville and Cumberland County area is among the worst in the nation for upward mobility, she said.
"But we have a proven route to change that through higher education," Spellings said. "National data from the Equality of Opportunity Project confirms that public universities, especially highly accessible institutions like FSU, do remarkable work in lifting low-income students to a better life."
Spellings said higher education, which has suffered from a "send us the money and leave us alone" kind of attitude, should be more accountable. Universities have said their benefits are difficult to measure and take a long time to mature, she said.
"So we've told people to trust us," she said. "But I believe that era is over."
Spellings said each institution in the UNC System has a performance agreement with "measurable outcomes."
"Here at FSU, Chancellor (James) Anderson crafted a performance plan focused on getting more students across the finish line, increasing the graduation rate by six percentage points, graduating 25 percent more rural students and 30 percent more low-income students, all while getting more students through in less time," Spellings said.
Spellings said universities must "advance the public good."
"A great many of the people in this state who run businesses, teach our children, heal our families, enrich our culture and set our public policy will pass through the doors of our universities," she said. "What we teach, the behavior we expect and the standards we model as teachers and public officials helps set the tone for our graduates and the world beyond."
Spellings also talked about the "N.C. Promise" initiative, which reduces the cost of tuition at UNC Pembroke, Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University to $500 a semester. The N.C. General Assembly budgeted $51 million to offset the loss of revenue at the schools.
FSU officials had expressed reservations about the program, fearing that the low cost would be associated with a lack of value.
Spellings said after the speech that the schools continue to provide a high quality education with the state paying the difference in cost.
Anderson said after the speech that the program had been connected with a move to change FSU's name to UNC Fayetteville.
"I think that shed a negative light on 'N.C. Promise' unfairly," he said.
Spellings said FSU now had the second lowest cost of attendance in the UNC System at just $15,000 a year.
"That low cost is crucial, because our students aren't comparing our price tag to a carefully selected group of our peers," she said. "They're comparing us to their savings accounts and paychecks, neither of which have kept up with the tuition hikes over the past two decades."
Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3572.