If you think of the stereotype of a strategic plan, it’s a lot of splash and not much substance. After a big launch, it’s rare to hear much of it ever again.

But at the UNC System, that’s anything but the case. Almost two years after the UNC Board of Governors unanimously approved the strategic plan, Higher Expectations, its impact on the operations and planning of the System’s 17 institutions is only growing.  

The plan’s vision is bold. How can 17 institutions, each one distinct in whom and how it serves, collectively work more effectively, for more students, from every background? How can the UNC System extend the transformational power of education and the opportunity it provides to students and families more affordably, efficiently, conveniently, and, most of all, at the highest quality possible?

In the time since, teams at the UNC System Office and across its constituent institutions have worked together to create performance agreements specific to each institution, outlining how each of the 17 would advance the priorities of the strategic plan in the way that worked best for their context.

“Our performance agreements are what make this strategic plan more than a document on a shelf,” said UNC President Margaret Spellings. “They outline specific courses of action that will get more students, from more backgrounds into college and across the finish line.”

Performance Agreement Metrics:

  1. Low-income undergraduate enrollments
  2. Rural undergraduate enrollments
  3. Completions by low-income undergraduates
  4. Completions by rural undergraduates
  5. Five-year graduation rates
  6. Undergraduate degrees per 100 full-time equivalent students (undergraduate degree efficiency)
  7. Achievement gaps in undergraduate degree efficiency
  8. Critical workforce credentials produced (undergraduate and graduate credentials in education, STEM, and health sciences)
  9. Research productivity (sponsored program awards and licensing income)

No other system of higher learning in the nation has attempted a similar approach, with a broad strategic plan paired with specific metrics and goals at each institution for their contributions to the broader strategy.

It’s an approach that’s being watched closely by peer institutions nationally. And thanks to new publicly available Data Dashboards that track institutions’ progress towards their stated goals, it’ll be easy for anyone from our peers, to our state’s policymakers, to interested taxpayers, to see exactly how we live up to our ambitions and expectations.


Together, these three parts – a strategic plan, 17 performance agreements, and comprehensive data dashboards – are spurring big action and big results at each UNC System institution.

Ten of the 12 institutions that prioritized improvement in graduation rates are seeing significant progress. Five of those institutions are already more than two years ahead of pace in pursuit of their ambitious goals.

Research funding is up 8.5 percent from the System’s baseline, with five of the six institutions that prioritized research funding increases already seeing significant gains in their numbers.

And completions among low-income students and rural students are up at most institutions that prioritized improvement in that crucial area.

Results are already clear. And in the years ahead, even more dramatic progress is yet to come, as each institution expands initiatives and efforts in pursuit of our ambitious Strategic Plan goals.


Originally published 7/26/18.