Five-year Goals and Associated Interim Benchmarks

In January 2017, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina unanimously approved Higher Expectations, a five-year Strategic Plan for the UNC System. The Plan calls on the UNC System to achieve ambitious goals in access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement, and institutional excellence and diversity.

Progress on these goals and metrics will be achieved through the hard work and commitment of institutional leaders, faculty, and staff. In that spirit, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has identified these contributions that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill aspires to make to the UNC Strategic Plan over the next five years.


Rural Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNC-Chapel Hill will enroll 4,140 rural students, a 5.0% increase over 2016 levels (198 additional rural students over a base of 3,942).

From UNC-Chapel Hill: In fall 2020, 36% of incoming first-year and transfer undergraduates from North Carolina were from rural counties, and the university is committed to increasing that number even as total undergraduate residential enrollment remains steady. That commitment is consistent with other efforts to increase college access for rural North Carolinians. The Carolina College Advising Corps, founded in 2007 with the help of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, places recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduates as admissions and financial-aid advisers in underserved high schools across North Carolina to reinforce the importance of a college education and guide prospective students through the admissions process. Sixty-one advisers serve 65,000 students, including 15,000 graduating seniors, in 78 high schools across the state. The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) partners with 14 North Carolina community colleges, most of them in rural counties, to ensure the university meets the needs of talented transfer students before they arrive in Chapel Hill. To date, 85% of C-STEP students have graduated from the university.

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Low-income Completions

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will produce 1,223 low-income graduates, an increase of 14.4% (155 additional low-income completions over a base of 1,078).


From UNC-Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill has found that increasing low-income completions requires evidence-based admissions practices, individualized, proactive academic and personal support, and financial aid that meets full demonstrated need. For example, in 2004, the university launched the Carolina Covenant, a ground-breaking program for academically qualified low-income students that offers a debt-free path to graduation through a combination of grants, scholarships, and work-study jobs. The Covenant also offers mentoring, academic and personal support services, and other university resources to help guide students to on-time graduation. That support includes offering pipeline programs with professional schools such as the Undergraduate Rural Medicine Project described in this video that serves high-performing, low-income students pursuing health careers by working in rural communities across the state. Since the Covenant program started, the four-year graduation rates for nearly 8,000 Covenant Scholars has increased dramatically, from 57% to 78%, and these scholars have excelled at UNC-Chapel Hill and beyond. In 2017, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded UNC-Chapel Hill its $1 million Equity in Education Prize as the first public university to be so honored for years of dedication to “doing an outstanding job of admitting and graduating high-achieving, low-income students.” 

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Five-year Graduation Rates

By 2022, UNC-Chapel Hill will improve its five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution to 94.0%. This is an improvement over a base of 91.7% for UNC-CH’s 2010 cohort.


From UNC-Chapel Hill: Although UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduation rates consistently remain among the nation’s highest, the university is committed to further improvement in providing excellent support services to students to help prepare them to solve the grand challenges of our time. In support of this commitment, and as part of Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, a comprehensive and recently revised strategic plan, the university is working to strengthen success even further by implementing significant improvements in support services. The plan’s number one strategic initiative, Build Our Community Together, focuses on bringing the university to a place where all students, faculty and staff can flourish. Those priorities include effective student recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation. A second major initiative, Strengthen Student Success, aims to develop a more systematic approach to academic advising, implementing a new general education curriculum called IDEAS in Action, focusing on mental health concerns of students, increasing students’ exposure to high-impact experiential learning, and ensuring accessible high-quality learning through remote instruction options.

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Critical Workforces

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will produce 3,769 critical workforce credentials, an increase of 11.9% (400 additional critical workforce credentials over a base of 3,369).

Laboratory experiment

From UNC-Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill prepares a diverse student body to become creators, explorers, innovators, and leaders in North Carolina and beyond. The university is among the UNC System’s largest contributors to the talent pool of professionals with degrees in health sciences, STEM fields, and education, which are vital to meet our state’s workforce requirements. Among the initiatives in Carolina Next:  Innovations for Public Good,” the university’s recently revised strategic plan, is fully integrating career preparation into all students’ experiences, while also extending career development to alumni. The university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Connecting, Doing, Making,” is improving learning across multiple disciplines – including the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities – by engaging more students in hands-on, faculty-guided research, inside and outside of the classroom, well before they graduate. Over 60%of graduating seniors have conducted mentored independent research during college, and many students gain workplace experience serving as apprentices and collaborators in faculty labs. At the graduate and professional levels, UNC-Chapel Hill awards a broad range of highly valued and sought-after post-baccalaureate credentials in STEM, health sciences, and education.

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Research Productivity

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will receive $905,349,456 in research and development sponsored program awards and licensing income, an increase of 7.4% ($62,700,000 additional over a base of $842,649,456).


From UNC-Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill is the nation’s 12th largest research university in total research expenditures. Its research enterprise has quadrupled over the past 20 years and recently exceeded $1 billion in annual funding from sponsors. The university ranks 6th in the nation for federal research funding. Broad strengths in biomedical, pharmaceutical and health sciences, computer and data science, social sciences, and physical and mathematical sciences are reflected in is institutional research priorities. Supporting key themes in Carolina Next:  Innovations for Public Good, UNC-Chapel Hill’s recently revised strategic plan, campus research has generated a total of 945 U.S. patents and 217 active start-up businesses. UNC research has produced 186 start-ups in North Carolina that provide jobs for 9,680 state residents. Research activity on campus employs another 10,325 North Carolinians in 78 counties. Faculty have included two Nobel laureates and over 150 members of the most distinguished national academies and prestigious learned societies. Research at Carolina ranges from global expertise in the cure, treatment and management of Covid-19 to protecting North Carolina from extreme weather events and removing PFAS compounds from our drinking water.

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Low-income Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNC-Chapel Hill will enroll 3,508 low-income students, a 4.2% increase over 2015 levels (140 additional low-income students over a base of 3,368).

From UNC-Chapel Hill:

Summer Bridge students
UNC Summer Bridge group with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The Carolina College Advising Corps serves low-income public high school students in North Carolina, offering assistance with admission, financial aid, and scholarship applications. Over 75% of the students served by the Corps receive free or reduced-price lunch. UNC-Chapel Hill’s commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students is also critical to enrolling more students from low-income households. The Carolina Covenant plays an important role in attracting students from low-income families by offering academically qualified low-income students a debt-free path to graduation, as well as providing a supportive community and crucial academic services.

As part of the Covenant, scholarships made possible through the Red, White and Carolina Blue Challenge include the Samuel K. and Sandra G. Welborn Military Families Endowed Scholarship Fund. Such philanthropy, part of the For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina, offers financial support to low-income students who are dependents of active-duty military or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Welborns, the children of factory workers in Winston-Salem, were inspired to help current students as the beneficiaries of financial assistance that made their own college degrees possible. Sam came to the university on the GI Bill as a Vietnam War veteran. Kyara Drew, a psychology major and the daughter of a staff sergeant injured in Iraq, is a current Red, White and Blue Challenge Scholar and shares her story here.

UNC-Chapel Hill also partners with 14 community colleges across North Carolina through its Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) to help community college students from financially challenged families transfer to and graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. C-STEP works with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Southwestern Community College, expanding the program to the most economically distressed counties in southwestern North Carolina. Thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, C-STEP also expanded in 2019 to foster more opportunity for low-income North Carolinians who are interested in STEM fields.

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Rural Completions

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will produce 1,108 rural graduates, an increase of 9.4% (95 additional rural completions over a base of 1,013).


From UNC-Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to enrolling and graduating more rural North Carolinians, using evidence-based admissions practices, individualized academic and personal support, and financial aid that meets students’ full demonstrated need. Proven programs such as Project Uplift, the Carolina Covenant, the Carolina College Advising Corps, and the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP) encourage students to prepare for the academic rigor of a research university and then enroll, succeed academically, and graduate on time. The university’s state-of-the-art classroom pedagogies and high-impact educational opportunities for students offered both on campus and virtually in STEM and other academic areas, prepare students for success in their majors and for timely completion of their degrees. Among current students, positive stories like that of Fidele Mugisha abound. Through his own perseverance and support from C-STEP and the Carolina Covenant, he expects to graduate in 2021 with a degree in business administration before pursuing a career in finance.

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Achievement Gaps in Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will reduce by 50% the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency between male students and female students.

From UNC-Chapel Hill: The most remarkable gains among Carolina Covenant Scholars have been made by men. These gains have been especially pronounced among black and African American men, whose graduation rates have nearly doubled since the Covenant was established in 2004. Support programs designed to assist students during all aspects of their college lives help address graduation and retention issues for those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in higher education and welcomes any individual interested in participating. Student-success professionals support all students on their path to graduation by encouraging them to identify their individual strengths and to take advantage of campus resources designed to help them succeed while at the university as well as to help prepare them for their lives after graduation.

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Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNC-Chapel Hill will improve its undergraduate degree efficiency to 25.7 over a base of 24.6.

Students have their photos taken near the Old Well before the 2019 Spring Commencement on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

From UNC-Chapel Hill: Through need-blind admissions and generous financial-aid practices, as well as the commitment of faculty and staff, UNC-Chapel Hill encourages students to complete their degrees efficiently, thus reducing expenses to themselves, their families, and the people of North Carolina. One measure of this efficiency is UNC-Chapel Hill’s strong graduation rates. Among first-year students who enrolled in 2016, 84.8% graduated in four years. Another indicator is degree efficiency, which is measured by the number of degrees earned per 100 full-time-equivalent students. Higher enrollments of transfer students tend to increase degree efficiency, as does summer study, which the university is working to expand through scholarships.

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