New Report Reaffirms the Importance of University Initiatives

Suppose a company spends millions on a pipeline to transport resources, only to discover that most of those resources aren’t getting through to their final destination. Investments in raw materials are dribbling down the drain. Downstream, supplies needed to fuel operations run short. The common-sense solution is simple: locate and patch the leak. Doing so will increase returns on investment significantly.

Every year, the state spends not millions but billions on the K-16 pipeline so that more North Carolinians, in all 100 counties, have a clear route from kindergarten through college. But a new report from Carolina Demography and the John M. Belk Endowment finds that most North Carolinians continue to slip through the cracks. Most exit after graduating from high school.

Key findings in the “Leaky Pipeline Report,” summarized in detail here, provide insight on who leaves the pipeline and when. For example, nearly 25 percent of students who enter higher education, either in the NC Community College System or in the UNC System, leave within their first year. Completion rates by black, Hispanic, and American Indian students lag behind the rest of the state. Compared to male students, female students are more likely to enroll in college or university immediately after high school graduation and are more likely to complete their degree on time.

In an era when the vast majority of new jobs require education beyond a high school diploma, this leaves both the students and the state without the requisite resources to thrive.

“When students leave the K-16 pipeline after high school, they are missing out on a valuable opportunity to invest in themselves…”

UNC System Interim President William Roper

“When students leave the K-16 pipeline after high school, they are missing out on a valuable opportunity to invest in themselves,” said UNC System Interim President William Roper. “And every time a student leaves the education pipeline prematurely, North Carolina loses an opportunity to develop the intellectual capital it needs to lead our economy into the future.”

The UNC System’s Strategic Plan prioritizes expanding the number of students it serves, with particular emphasis on helping more first-generation, low-income, and rural students attain some level of higher education. The University has pursued a variety of initiatives designed to increase enrollments of underserved students, including its participation in myFutureNC, the Student Success Innovation Lab, NC Promise, the Fixed Tuition Plan, and the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement with the North Carolina Community College System.

Much of the UNC System’s work specifically targets the very populations that the report identifies as being most at risk of leaving the pipeline.

“These strategies are helping the UNC System rise to this challenge and accomplish the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan,” said the UNC System’s Senior Vice President for Strategy and Policy Andrew Kelly. “Our five-year graduation rates are eight percentage points ahead of the national average. We’re enrolling and graduating more transfer students from the community colleges. And we’re helping low-income students and those from Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties complete a degree in a timely fashion.”

However, the initiatives that have boosted enrollment and graduation rates require a concerted effort and a long-term commitment of resources. The “Leaky Pipeline Report” underscores the urgency of continuing forward with this work.

“Our five-year graduation rates are eight percentage points ahead of the national average.”

Andrew Kelly

According to the report, only 47 percent of North Carolinians adults between 25 to 64 have a postsecondary degree or nondegree credential. Unless North Carolina stanches the attrition between high school and college, the state will not be able to maintain the highly trained workforce it needs to sustain a healthy, growing economy.

The “Leaky Pipeline Report” spells out where the major faults in the K-16 pipeline are. With its recent efforts to make higher education more affordable, to create more pathways into the University, and to promote student success, the UNC System is well on its way to patching these ruptures.

The UNC System is certainly not doing this heavy lifting alone. Through myFutureNC, it has collaborated with leaders in education, business, government, and philanthropy. Working together, this commission established an ambitious goal for North Carolina: ensuring that by 2030, 2 million North Carolinians have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential.

As the gains from these initiatives accumulate, more students, from all walks of life, will have the skills, talent, and training to help ready North Carolina for tomorrow.