The UNC System is one of the most valuable public higher education systems in the country. North Carolina introduced the nation to the concept of a public university, and the state continues to lead the way in the arena of higher education.
In North Carolina, all the public educational institutions granting four-year degrees are part of the University of North Carolina System. The multi-campus system encompasses 16 universities and the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students.
The consolidation under one governing board has accelerated North Carolina’s four fundamental higher education objectives: to foster the development of a well-planned and coordinated system of higher education; to improve the quality of education; to extend educational benefits beyond campus borders; and to encourage efficient and effective use of the state’s resources.
In addition to its formal teaching role, the UNC System has a long-standing commitment to research and public service. The state and its people also reap the social and economic benefits of the UNC System’s affiliated institutions including PBS North Carolina, The University of North Carolina Press, UNC Health, cooperative extension and research services, nine area health education centers, and myriad other University programs and facilities.
The University’s mission statement was adopted by the Board of Governors in 1992 and given statutory status in 1995. This statement formally outlines three components of the UNC System mission: instruction, research, and outreach and service.
The University of North Carolina is a public, multi-campus university dedicated to the service of North Carolina and its people. It encompasses the 17 diverse constituent institutions and other educational, research, and public service organizations. Each shares in the overall mission of the University. That mission is to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society. This mission is accomplished through instruction, which communicates the knowledge and values and imparts the skills necessary for individuals to lead responsible, productive, and personally satisfying lives; through research, scholarship, and creative activities, which advance knowledge and enhance the educational process; and through public service, which contributes to the solution of societal problems and enriches the quality of life in the State. In the fulfillment of this mission, the University shall seek an efficient use of available resources to ensure the highest quality in its service to the citizens of the State.
Teaching and learning constitute the primary service that the University renders to society. Teaching, or instruction, is the primary responsibility of each of the constituent institutions. The relative importance of research and public service, which enhance teaching and learning, varies among the constituent institutions, depending on their overall missions.
STEEPED IN HISTORY: TWO CENTURIES OF INNOVATION
For 136 years, the only campus of the University of North Carolina was at Chapel Hill.
Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789, the University of North Carolina was the first public university in the United States to open its doors and the only one to graduate students in the eighteenth century. The first class in Chapel Hill was admitted in 1795.
By 1877, the General Assembly had begun sponsoring additional institutions of higher education, each diverse in its origin and purpose. Five were historically black institutions, and another was founded to educate American Indians. Some opened as high schools. Several were created to prepare teachers for the public schools. Others had a technological emphasis. One was established as a training school for performing artists.
The 1931 session of the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina to include three state-supported institutions: the campus at Chapel Hill (now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University at Raleigh), and Woman’s College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). The new multi-campus University operated with one board of trustees and one president. By 1969, three additional institutions had joined the University through legislative action: the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
In 1971, the state’s ten remaining public senior institutions were brought into the System: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, the North Carolina School of the Arts (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts), Pembroke State University (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke), Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University. In 1985, the NC School of Science and Mathematics was declared an affiliated school of the University; and in July 2007, NCSSM, by legislative action, became a constituent institution of the UNC System. View the timeline and the history of past presidents.
Over the course of their histories, some of the schools in the UNC System were specifically delineated as women’s colleges or minority-serving institutions. While these histories still influence these institutions’ distinctive identities, today all institutions welcome and embrace gender, sexual, cultural, and ethnic diversity, reflecting North Carolina’s rich heritage and multicultural demographic.
A Vision for the Future
The UNC System is one of North Carolina’s greatest assets and is a model for public higher education around the world. For over two centuries, it has made North Carolina’s economy stronger, its people more knowledgeable, and its culture richer.
For more information on ongoing strategies for the future of the state’s public higher education and measures of success, see the Strategic Plan web page.