Five-year Goals and Associated Interim Benchmarks

In January 2017, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina unanimously approved Higher Expectations, a five-year Strategic Plan for the UNC System. The Plan calls on the UNC System to achieve ambitious goals in access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement, and institutional excellence and diversity.

Progress on these goals and metrics will be achieved through the hard work and commitment of institutional leaders, faculty, and staff. In that spirit, University of North Carolina Wilmington has identified these contributions that University of North Carolina Wilmington aspires to make to the UNC Strategic Plan over the next five years.

From UNC Wilmington: The University of North Carolina Wilmington emphasizes academic excellence, scholarly research, and programs that prepare students for the careers of today and those that will exist in the future. UNCW faculty balance dedication to teaching with research that has regional, national, and international impact. With a focus on the nine goals below, UNCW is committed to helping students achieve academic success and complete their degrees while building critical workforce skills. Additionally, the university, which was recently elevated to a doctoral-level university with high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, will continue to increase faculty, staff, and student research productivity.


Low-income Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCW will enroll 3,576 low-income students, a 7.5% increase over 2015 levels (248 additional low-income students over a base of 3,328).

Student in library

From UNC Wilmington: By fall 2018, UNCW had surpassed its 2021 performance goal as a result of numerous efforts to make higher education more accessible to students from all backgrounds. The university introduces the possibility of college education through youth programs and K-12 school partnerships. Admissions actively recruits students from lower-income backgrounds, and the Office of Financial Aid offers programs specifically to assist them. Additionally, UNCW has increased outreach to students in rural high schools, Pell Grant recipients, and first-generation college students regarding financial aid resources and other support services available to them. The story of Alynna Summit’19, ’21M illustrates how UNCW programs support student success: “Coming from a family with a single mom who could barely make ends meet, it was stressed that I had to continue my education to make a better life for myself,” she said. “I worked very hard in high school, met with my guidance counselor every week to help me apply to colleges since my mom didn’t know how to, and was able to obtain the scholarships needed to pay for college.”

Rural Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCW will enroll 4,220 rural students, a 5.3% increase over 2016 levels (212 additional rural students over a base of 4,008).

Soldier receiving medals

From UNC Wilmington: Although UNCW attracts students from around the globe, the rural regions of eastern North Carolina are an important source of students. As of fall 2019, UNCW already had surpassed its 2021 performance goal; however, the university remains committed to increasing opportunities for students from rural areas. As of January 2020, UNCW had entered into Pathways to Excellence agreements with 27 community colleges, providing a clear path for prospective transfer students. Admissions representatives made recruiting visits to 66 Tier I and II counties in North Carolina, despite a nearly month-long disruption due to Hurricane Florence. So far in 2019-20, admissions representatives have visited 78 of the 80 Tier I and II counties. To recruit transfer students, UNCW also holds “Apply on the Fly” events at community colleges (16 scheduled during spring semester 2019). Seahawk RISE, coordinated by UNCW’s University College, helps first-year students from rural areas by providing an assigned advisor, peer mentors, and a range of campus resources. Distance learning also enhances access to UNCW. For the second consecutive year, UNCW ranked 8th nationally among 2020 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Achievement Gaps in Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCW will reduce by 50% the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency between low income and non-low income students.

Student looking at screen

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW met its 2018-19 benchmark in this category, with a degree efficiency of 23.1 degrees per 100 FTE students, compared with a benchmark goal of 22.9. UNCW’s commitment to narrowing the gap is linked to degree completions, so all retention and student-support initiatives inherently contribute to that effort. The university has also initiated programs that focus on the needs of first-generation college students, low-income and rural students, and others whose personal circumstances may present a barrier to degree completion. The Seahawk LEADS mentoring program inspires students to focus on degree completion by providing resources and guidance. Another initiative, Seahawk Success, has encouraged at least 31 students since 2017 to return to UNCW to finish their degrees.

Research Productivity

By 2021-22, UNCW will receive $19,320,362 in research and development sponsored program awards and licensing income, an increase of 134% ($11,063,797 additional over a base of $8,256,565).

man with bird

From UNC Wilmington: Despite widespread damage and a nearly month-long closure as a result of Hurricane Florence in September 2018, the university continues to make progress toward its research productivity goal. The university received $11,056,918 in research grants and licensing income during the 2018-19 academic year. UNCW annually honors the achievements of faculty researchers, many of whom have brought in millions of dollars in research grant money. Among their 2018-19 accomplishments: critical opioid research; drone mapping of coastal changes; creation of synthetic molecules that may aid in the production of new pharmaceuticals; collection of color images obtained from a nanosatellite launched to monitor biological changes in the ocean; and a professor honored for having the most peer-reviewed journal articles resulting from ocean exploration missions supported by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Professor of Music Daniel Johnson and Associate Professor of Geography Narcisa Pricope received Fulbright research and teaching awards in spring 2019. UNCW continues to promote research and applied learning opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. Three students were awarded funds for Holocaust research, and Amanda Ceroli ’19 received a Fulbright Research Grant. As a doctoral-level university with high research activity, UNCW continues to expand research opportunities for faculty, staff and students.

Critical Workforces

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 2,125 critical workforce credentials, an increase of 34.2% (542 additional critical workforce credentials over a base of 1,583).

Students in lab

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW surpassed its 2021-22 goal by 6.4% in the 2018-19 academic year. UNCW is committed to preparing students for high-demand career fields by enhancing current programs and establishing new degree programs. Chancellor Sartarelli, UNCW Trustees Michael Lee and Woody White, and Watson College of Education Dean Van Dempsey were among a local delegation that met recently with Apple representatives exploring how technology can improve education and workforce development. In December 2018, UNCW received its largest gift commitment to date: $10 million to establish the David S. Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems within the Cameron School of Business. The university was named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, a designation enabling UNCW students to compete for cybersecurity jobs with federal agencies and government contractors. In fall 2019, UNCW became the first university in the nation to offer a BS in Coastal Engineering. The growing College of Health and Human Services has added programs, including the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. A Master of Healthcare Administration program will begin in fall 2020. Other programs with strong local employment potential include data science, athletic training, clinical research, education, chemistry, and pharmaceutical sciences. Veterans Hall will open in 2020 to house CHHS and chemistry and biochemistry programs, as well as the Office of Military Affairs.


From UNC Wilmington: Through its Vision Statement, UNCW emphasizes excellence in everything it does, and continued improvement and progress are keys to meeting that high standard. In fall 2019, U.S. News & World Report elevated the university from the regional to the national universities category for the first time and ranked UNCW 92nd on its list of the “2020 Top Public National Universities.” The university chose to focus on improving three areas linked to successful and timely degree completion: low-income completions, rural completions, and five-year graduation rates. UNCW has met and exceeded the benchmarks in its performance agreement, but always strives to go beyond the minimum expectations. UNCW will continue to develop programs to help students see their college plan through to graduation.

Low-income Completions

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 1,406 low-income graduates, an increase of 26.7% (296 additional low-income completions over a base of 1,110).

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has been nationally recognized for its commitment to diversity and inclusion and has taken many steps to help students from all backgrounds succeed. The university’s 86.2% freshman retention rate as of fall 2019 reflects those efforts. University College, which helps first-year students transition to UNCW, and the dean of Undergraduate Studies play key roles in retention and completions. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion also offers programs designed for students who may be first-generation college students. Organizations such as Centro Hispano and the Upperman African American Cultural Center help students engage with the university community and support their academic goals. Financial aid – including Pell Grants and SOAR scholarships – and work-study programs help offset the cost of higher education. The university enlisted a group of student leaders to help students stay abreast of application timelines to maximize financial aid. The Seahawk LEADS (Leadership, Empowerment, Academic Development and Success) program pairs first-year students with a faculty or staff mentor. Studies show that students with mentors are more likely to graduate.

Rural Completions

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 1,080 rural graduates, an increase of 15.8% (147 additional rural completions over a base of 933).

Woman with award

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has surpassed its 2021-22 goal, in part due to programs designed to help students from rural communities transition to a university setting. Seahawk RISE proved successful in its first year (2018-19), with a 92.8% retention rate (compared with an overall retention rate of 86.2%) and a group GPA of 3.355, compared with 3.082 among all rural students. With several large military bases within 100 miles, UNCW has been recognized for extending educational opportunities to active-duty service members, veterans, and military families, and its Office of Military Affairs provides resources and services to military-affiliated students. Distance learning also makes it easier for people, especially working adults, who do not live within convenient driving distance of a university campus to complete their degrees. UNCW ranks 8th in the nation on the U.S. News & World Report list of “2020 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.” A four-year State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation collaboration with UNCW provided 76 public service internships with nonprofits in rural counties, an arrangement that benefits both the agencies and the students who participate in a meaningful applied-learning experience.

Five-year Graduation Rates

By 2022, UNCW will improve its five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution to 81.6%. This is an improvement over a base of 78.4% for UNCW’s 2010 cohort.

Graduate pointing

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW’s five-year graduation rate is among the highest in the UNC System and has already surpassed the university’s 2022 goal. The university’s strategic focus is to provide an affordable, high-quality education that prepares students to compete in a global workforce. UNCW is a student-centered campus with a strong emphasis on teaching and mentoring. University College supports students as they explore undergraduate curriculum and career paths, prepare to declare an appropriate major, and succeed in their transition to UNCW. This empowers students to make informed academic choices that position them for success. With funding from the UNC System, UNCW has enhanced services to reduce the number of “stop-outs” (students who leave without graduating). Key among these efforts is Seahawk Success, which encourages former students to return to complete their degrees. Since 2017, 31 students have graduated through the program. In a related initiative, a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies offers students who “stopped out” a choice of several academic degree tracks that incorporate their previous credits as well as life and work experiences.


From UNC Wilmington: UNCW’s Strategic Plan emphasizes attracting, retaining and graduating students to ensure their success as they enter the workforce or continue their education. As undergraduate degree efficiency increases, it also serves as a measure of how well the university is preparing students for success. Although UNCW’s undergraduate degree efficiency was already excellent, the university will sustain and increase this metric.

Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCW will maintain its undergraduate degree efficiency at its current level of 26.1.

Woman graduating

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has surpassed its goal to sustain undergraduate degree efficiency. Successes in initiatives named in the previous performance metrics that center on retention of students, graduation rates, and degree completion will continue to raise the university’s undergraduate degree efficiency. The development of programs in high-demand fields like coastal engineering, health care, pharmaceutical sciences, and cybersecurity, as well as expanded online options, are examples of current and planned programs that will enable UNCW to maintain or increase its undergraduate degree efficiency. Relationships with regional businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies enhance student internship opportunities. Students who can see how their classroom learning applies in the workforce are more likely to remain focused on their academic goals, including on-time completion of degree programs. River Bondurant ’18, ’19M, a double major in communication studies and Spanish who recently earned a master’s degree in Spanish, credits the support she received from many departments and divisions with helping her achieve her academic goals: “I know I have a family in the Communication Studies Department, a shoulder to lean on in the Spanish Department, (former) coworkers in the Office of University Relations who are always willing to lend a hand, and fellow tutors in the University Learning Center who would be there for me in a heartbeat. I have so many people that genuinely care about me and my success surrounding me at UNCW.” UNCW also encourages students to use the courses and resources available to them to enhance their career opportunities. Oceanography major Jeremy Markus Jones ’18 participated in campus military organizations and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in a ceremony at UNCW.

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