Higher Expectations

The University of North Carolina System, with its 17 institutions, is a cornerstone of our state’s success, ensuring access to affordable, world-class higher education for all qualified North Carolinians. No public university system in the country promotes access, success, and excellence as effectively as the UNC System.

The UNC System’s 2017-22 Strategic Plan built on this strong foundation by setting measurable goals under five broad categories:

  • Access 
  • Student success 
  • Affordability and efficiency 
  • Economic impact and community engagement 
  • Excellent and diverse institutions

The plan called for the System to enroll and graduate more low-income students, raise five-year graduation rates, and graduate more students from programs that are aligned with critical workforce needs. The System set ambitious targets and regularly reported institutional progress. Since 2017, UNC System institutions surpassed the Strategic Plan’s economic impact and student success goals while highlighting the need for continued progress in other areas.

We must do more. The world has changed dramatically over the past five years, and our universities must change with it. After seeing decades of national and state growth in the overall number of high school graduates, changing demographics foreshadow a lasting slowdown in college enrollment. Simply put, the pool of traditional college students in North Carolina is getting smaller, and that has major implications for our universities. Meanwhile, concerns about student debt and uncertain job prospects have led increasing numbers of prospective students to question the value of higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated these trends while also showing what is possible when universities think creatively about their mission and model.

The goals and metrics outlined in the Strategic Plan reflect the long-term vision and priorities of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System, including the core metrics selected by the Presidential Assessment Committee to shape presidential and chancellor compensation and the performance component of the university’s funding formula in the years to come.

The goals also reflect input from a range of constituencies across the university, including faculty, staff, students, and other leaders. We heard that our five themes are more relevant than ever. We still need to improve access to our institutions and ensure students make it to the finish line. We still need to increase the contribution of UNC institutions in solving the challenges facing communities throughout the state. So, the themes are the same in this plan, but we have developed new goals to reflect our changing environment.

Each goal includes a target goal and a stretch goal. While our target goals are ambitious, we believe that if we work together, we can reach or exceed our stretch goals. Progress toward the goals will be reported on an annual basis with updates every spring.


All North Carolinians prepared for rigorous learning should be able to pursue a university education. Broader access encourages our state residents to pursue higher education, improves pathways for transfer and nontraditional students, and provides academic, financial, and cultural support for students from all walks of life.


Student success is a combination of positive intellectual, personal, and social development facilitated by a high-quality university education. It includes the development of competencies such as critical and creative thinking, lifelong learning, technology proficiency, resilience, effective communication, flexibility, and collaboration, among others. It also pertains to the timely acquisition of a degree.

The System has made student mental health a priority, investing in shared telehealth services and successfully soliciting support from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund to expand capacity and training. One of the limitations in understanding the scope of the challenge and our ability to measure improvement is the lack of systematic data on the incidence of student mental health concerns. This goal calls on each institution in the System to participate at least once in the Healthy Minds Survey, an annual study of student mental health run by the Healthy Minds Network, a team of university-based economics and public health researchers. Collecting these data will enable universities to identify specific challenges and set goals for improvement. 

  • All institutions will participate in the Healthy Minds Survey and develop campus-level goals and strategies based on survey findings. 
  • Survey Administration Schedule
    • Administered prior to March 2023: UNC Greensboro
    • Administering in spring 2023: UNC-Chapel Hill
    • Planned for fall 2023: App State, NCCU, NC State, UNC Charlotte, UNC Pembroke, UNCSA, WCU, WSSU
    • Planned for spring 2024: ECU, ECSU, FSU, N.C. A&T, UNC Asheville, UNC Wilmington


Article IX, Section 9 of the North Carolina State Constitution requires that “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” 

That constitutional mandate encourages a working compact among the state’s elected officials, taxpayers, and UNC to deliver the University’s multifaceted mission at the highest levels of quality in a cost-effective manner without regard to a student’s ability to pay. 


Universities have sustained impact on state and regional economies through the students they attract and teach, the research they perform, the innovation they encourage, the people they employ, the services they offer, and the partnerships they build. The System can enhance economic impact and community engagement by preparing graduates to be well-rounded citizens and lifelong learners, improving quality of life; investing in foundational research; speeding the discovery, application, and translation of research; and deepening sustained partnerships that strengthen local communities and the state’s economy.

The military community is a major asset to the state of North Carolina and the UNC System. Military partnerships enhance visibility and recruitment for UNC System institutions; provide military-affiliated students with access to training, professional development, and networking opportunities; fund research and development; and support the growth of the state’s military economy. Increasing these partnerships will continue to benefit both the UNC System and the entire state. 

  • Baseline: 12 
  • Target: 20 
  • Stretch: 25 

Military partnerships as of March 2023 : 13


The University’s constituent institutions are individually distinct and mission- focused and collectively comprise an inclusive and vibrant System that is committed to excellence and the development of a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff. 

As part of the previous Strategic Plan, the System conducted a biennial employee engagement survey to measure workplace satisfaction. The plan will continue these biennial surveys to measure improvement in key engagement metrics, including job satisfaction, compensation and benefits, and professional development. 

  • Increase the positive response rate on the employee engagement survey to meet or exceed the benchmark for four-year public universities and add survey items to the employee engagement survey that relate directly to employee mental health and well-being.