All Carolina alumni believe that we attended Carolina at exactly the perfect time — and every one of us is correct. Each of us simply uses different criteria to arrive at that conclusion. For some, we assess our classroom experiences and relationships with revered faculty. Others reflect on our life-changing experiences outside the classroom through various student organizations, fraternity or sorority life and study abroad experiences. We cherish special friendships that originated during our Carolina student days and continue today.
Last summer, then-student body President J.J. Raynor ’09 and trustee John Ellison ’69, with encouragement from Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 and trustees’ Chair Roger Perry ’71, launched an effort to develop a strategic plan to improve Carolina’s quality in the face of limited resources and often-noted calls to increase enrollment. Ellison and Raynor held more than 200 meetings soliciting the thoughts and suggestions of more than 1,000 Carolina students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni. In late March, they presented their “Best Place to Teach, Learn and Discover Report” to the UNC Board of Trustees.
Building upon consultant’s findings released a year ago, Raynor and Ellison emphasized how challenging it will be for Carolina to grow our first-year class by 750 students and maintain high quality. For instance, in 2008, of the 1,422 N.C. high school seniors who scored 1400 or higher on the SAT, more than 86 percent applied to Carolina.While UNC admitted more than 78 percent of these students, only 51.7 percent enrolled. UNC must increase our yield of these high-achieving students, but even if all of the remaining 195 who didn’t apply had applied, that is a small fraction of that target 750 new students by which the UNC System encourages us to grow between now and 2017.
The consultants also noted that, to prompt these high-achieving students to continue to apply and enroll, Carolina must maintain the high quality that these top students are looking for in their potential classmates. These students also express concerns about the perceived size of Carolina, access to faculty, personal attention and class size.
As noted in the March/April issue of the Review, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is aggressively recruiting the “best and the brightest” and also is taking initiatives to increase the yield among those admitted. Chancellor Thorp is regularly contacting top students by phone and, when possible, in person, and he has spent time with top students at several N.C. high schools.The Carolina Covenant is attracting the most qualified financially disadvantaged students and also is bringing greater diversity to our student body.
Ellison’s and Raynor’s report also encourages the expansion of merit scholarships, the continued training and use of alumni, current students and faculty as well as the involvement of students who have committed to Carolina to recruit high-achieving students. These initiatives will be aided by a consistent emphasis on Carolina’s 18,000 undergraduates who live and are taught on a single campus.
Raynor and Ellison emphasize the importance of expanding our recruitment of graduate students, and they note that undergraduates greatly benefit from the presence of gifted graduate students. Additional resources are especially important to assist graduate students with tuition remissions; graduate student fees; summer research stipends; and one-year, no-service obligations fellowships for first-year doctoral students.
Vital to making Carolina the best place to teach, learn and discover is retaining and recruiting outstanding faculty. The UNC System wants each campus to rank at the 80th percentile of their peers with non-medical school tenured and tenure-track faculty. Currently, Carolina is at 53 percent of our peers by rank across all disciplines. To achieve the 80th percentile will require a recurring increase of $11.5 million for salaries and benefits. The needed funds to achieve this would have to come from private gifts, state appropriations, endowment earnings, increased tuition and overhead receipts.
Finally, Ellison and Raynor report that there was a consensus among those with whom they met and from whom they heard that Carolina also should improve the academic experience. Among their recommendations: Continue to reduce class size by expanding the first-year seminars and the honors program; implement the recommendations of the 2008 Report of the Academic Advising Implementation Committee; expand opportunities for undergraduate research; establish a “3+1 Master’s Program” for students who can finish their undergraduate degree in three years; and launch a minor in “Solving the World’s Problems.”
While today’s economic challenges are serious, the “Best Place to Teach, Learn and Discover Report” provides an exciting blueprint for the future. It will form the basis for updating the academic plan and largely shape fundraising priorities. Today’s students have every reason to believe that they, too, are attending Carolina at the perfect time.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70