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Press Release

Grant to fund evidence-based financial aid solutions and degree-aligned math instruction

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The John M. Belk Endowment has awarded $3 million to the University of North Carolina System to advance innovative student success efforts, including improvements in financial aid and math education.

The majority of the gift, $2.25 million, will go towards a two-part project on financial aid including a joint effort to study and recommend improvements to state grant programs that serve UNC and community college students and support for a financial aid innovation fund.

“Our world-class faculty transform the world and our economy through their research, so it’s only appropriate that we apply that same rigor to our own operation,” said UNC System President Margaret Spellings. “The John M. Belk Endowment’s gift will jumpstart our efforts to identify the most effective ways to structure financial aid to get more students to and through our colleges and universities. Financial aid programs are among the most important investments we can make in expanding educational opportunity, so it’s incumbent on us to make sure we are maximizing the return on those investments.”

The study group – led by the UNC System and the North Carolina Community College System and comprised of state public higher education leaders, state and institutional financial aid officers, and national financial aid researchers – will analyze the current design of state grant programs and outreach efforts, draw on national best practices, and issue policy recommendations.

“This important effort will advance the Community College System’s long-standing commitment to higher education access and success,” said North Carolina Community College System President Peter Hans. “We will work together as full partners to ensure our state’s financial aid programs support all students, particularly our non-traditional students who often juggle multiple responsibilities while pursuing their education.”

The second part, a financial aid innovation fund, will provide resources to UNC System institutions to test promising approaches to financial aid and fund faculty from UNC System institutions to conduct rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness. UNC System institutions will apply for funding for evidence-based approaches that can improve student success, like UNC Asheville’s “First to Finish” summer grant program, micro-grant initiatives like UNC Charlotte’s “49er Finish Program,” and incentive-based grants that provide aid to students who accelerate their academic schedule.

“The UNC System is doing cutting-edge work on innovative approaches to financial aid and through the fund’s work, we’ll have rigorous research that establishes which approaches should be expanded and how best to ensure that students from every background can succeed in school,” said John M. Belk Endowment Board Chair MC Belk Pilon. “Financial aid is the best tool we have to give every student a shot at a postsecondary education, and we must do it right.”

The John M. Belk Endowment’s gift also provides nearly $1 million to implement the recommendations from the UNC System’s Math Pathways initiative. The initiative, driven by math faculty and administrators from all 17 UNC institutions, will find ways to encourage active learning in the classroom and to improve enrichment strategies. More broadly, the initiative will focus on course redesign so that gateway courses align with student major and career paths. This redesign will narrow achievement gaps and better prepare graduates with the foundational skills that they need to succeed in college and career.

“When our data show only two-thirds of UNC System students are passing their college algebra courses at several of our institutions, we know there’s work to do,” said President Spellings. “The John M. Belk Endowment’s gift will allow us to implement the recommendations coming from our math faculty and administrators and turn our gateway math courses from stumbling blocks to building blocks.”

About the John M. Belk Endowment

Based in Charlotte, NC, the John M. Belk Endowment is a private family foundation committed to transforming postsecondary educational opportunities to meet North Carolina’s evolving workforce needs.  Its mission is aligned with the vision of its founder, the late John M. Belk who served four terms of mayor of Charlotte and was CEO of the department store company Belk, Inc.  He created the John M. Belk Endowment in 1995 to fund a national merit scholarship program for his beloved alma mater, Davidson College.  Now led by Mr. Belk’s daughter, MC Belk Pilon, the John M. Belk Endowment staff and board continue to partner with innovative, results-oriented programs in North Carolina to further Mr. Belk’s values, legacy, and focus on the value of education as a means to personal fulfillment and community vitality.  For more information, please visit http://jmbendowment.org

About the UNC System

The University of North Carolina System enrolls more than 230,000 students at 17 institutions including all 16 of the state’s public universities, as well as the nation’s first public residential high school for academically gifted students, N.C. School of Science and Mathematics. The UNC System is among the strongest and most diverse higher education systems in the nation, with over $1.5 billion in research expenditures, a wide array of HBCUs, liberal art institutions, comprehensive universities and R-1 research institutions. Its institutions support two medical schools and a teaching hospital, two law schools, a veterinary school, a school of pharmacy, 11 nursing programs, 15 schools of education, five schools of engineering and a renowned arts conservatory. The North Carolina Arboretum, UNC Press, and the UNC Center for Public Television, with its 12-station broadcast network, are also all UNC System affiliate organizations.