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 School of the Arts has identified these contributions that University of North Carolina School of the Arts aspires to make to the UNC Strategic Plan over the next five years.

From UNC School of the Arts: The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is North Carolina’s only university devoted entirely to training talented students to become professional artists in the fields of dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking, and music. UNCSA reaches, trains and graduates students who have the most extraordinary artistic potential in our state. Artists shape our world by enriching our culture and feeding our souls. They also contribute billions to our local, state, national, and international economies. With the global arts and entertainment industry changing rapidly and constantly, UNCSA is creating the future of the arts by training high school, undergraduate, and graduate students from all walks of life to be innovative and entrepreneurial. UNCSA has made substantial progress toward our five-year performance goals, guaranteeing that the university will continue to lead the arts in North Carolina and beyond.  


Rural Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCSA will enroll 150 rural students, a 7% increase over 2016 levels (10 additional rural students over a base of 140).*

Update: In fall 2020, UNCSA exceeded its goal of 147 rural students with an actual count of 154 rural students. UNCSA is currently exceeding the fall 2021 goal of 150 and is on track to surpass it.

From UNC School of the Arts: To ensure that every young artist from Cherokee County to Dare County considers the unique opportunities available at UNCSA, we have instituted recruitment that targets rural communities. 

During non-pandemic student recruitment seasons — when the Office of Admissions can travel — most recruitment occurs in rural and/or N.C. Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties through the university’s affiliation with the Carolinas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (CACRAO). For example, 70% of travel in both 2018 and 2019 focused on college fairs and/or school visits in these areas.  

During the pandemic, with recruitment travel limited or suspended, the Office of Admissions created dynamic online experiences that allowed prospective students and families access to UNCSA admissions counselors. Auditions also moved online, which again provided greater accessibility as prospective students were no longer burdened with traveling to Winston-Salem or a major city to audition. 

Additionally, the Office of Admissions supports application fee waivers for applicants in need.  

* Numbers were re-estimated due to technical errors. 

Rural Completions

By 2021-22, UNCSA will produce 21 rural graduates, an increase of 31.3% (5 additional rural completions over a base of 16).

Update: For the 2019-20 academic year, UNCSA was on target with 19 rural graduates compared with a goal of 19 and is on track to produce 21 rural graduates in 2021-22.

From UNCSA: After a pause for the pandemic, Student Advantage Week returned to an in-person session in August 2021. One program goal has been to foster a sense of belonging and connection for our students from Tier 1/Tier 2 rural areas of North Carolina. Workshops include conversations and activities focused on resiliency, stress management, mindfulness, familiarity with campus support mechanisms, and the art of recovery. 

Given the rigorous artistic training at the heart of the UNCSA student experience, the need for support services during the pandemic has continued to grow. To address this need academically, the Division of Student Affairs actively gathers information from faculty through an Academic Early Warning Report, which is filed for concerns including excessive absences, lack of engagement, and low grades. Follow-up occurs at the arts school and Student Affairs levels to support students in need. 

Additionally, Student Affairs provides financial support for students in the form of a general emergency fund, which helps those who experience circumstances that may jeopardize their health, safety, or performance. In addition, rural students facing food insecurity may avail themselves of free food and related items in the Pickle Pantry, which is entirely supported by donations from the greater UNCSA community.

Five-year Graduation Rates

By 2022, UNCSA will improve its five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution to 70.6%. This is an improvement over a base of 67.6% for UNCSA’s 2010 cohort.

Update:  In 2020, UNCSA improved its five-year graduation rate for the 2015 cohort to 76.3%, well over the 69.3% goal for that period. UNCSA is currently exceeding the 2022 goal of 70.6% and is on track to surpass it.

From UNCSA: Recently, the Office of Admissions has focused on recruiting “best-fit” students. Our goal has been to better educate prospective students and parents during the recruitment process on who we are as a university, what type of students we are looking for, what our expectations are for enrolled students, and what it takes to succeed at UNCSA. 

For some time, Admissions and Strategic Communications have collaborated to craft a communications plan that leads prospective students to the application, through the audition process and toward enrollment. Strategic Communications has focused on broader awareness and marketing of the artistic experience at UNCSA through a comprehensive branding campaign and has increased focus on video storytelling. These steps provide students with the knowledge about our programs to ensure they are the best fit for the conservatory experience. Changes have also been made to the admissions experience online, via the Connect with UNCSA webpage. These efforts bring in stronger applicants at a stronger matriculation rate, which often leads to an improved graduation rate. 

Starting in 2019, UNCSA partnered with Cappex, a leading college research and decision platform, which provides inquiries and prospective students based on criteria provided by UNCSA. This partnership has proven successful in delivering best-fit students. For example, 17% of submitted applications for fall 2021 came through Cappex leads. More importantly, 11% of the enrolled incoming class for fall 2021 was recruited through Cappex. 

Achievement Gaps in Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCSA will reduce by 50% the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency between rural and non-rural students.

Update: For the 2019-20 academic year, UNCSA achieved a 15.7 actual performance over a 15.1 goal for the timeframe, and is on track to increase rural students’ undergraduate degree efficiency to 16.6 in 2021-22.

UNCSA campus


In fall 2019, UNCSA changed most of its programs to the 120-credit requirement for graduation to align with the amended UNC Policy on Fostering Undergraduate Student Success (UNC Policy 400.1.5). (Students already in attendance at UNCSA before fall 2019 could opt into the fall 2019 bulletin.) Many UNCSA degree programs required far more credits than 120 prior to 2019. This move shortened the time to degree by reducing the number of credits required and streamlined the process for greater efficiency. 

Students can more easily manage their progress toward degree completion through the university’s implementation, in fall 2015, of the web-based degree tracking tool DegreeWorks. Using DegreeWorks has also led to an enhanced advising experience, as advisers have access to their students’ degree progress via DegreeWorks as well.

Critical Workforces

By 2021-22, UNCSA will produce 14 critical workforce credentials (14 additional critical workforce credentials over a base of 0).

Update: Achievement of this goal has been postponed due to delays in the establishment of two new programs targeting Critical Workforces, and changes in the industry. For example, in Filmmaking, many of the new technologies are being integrated into existing programs such as cinematography and visual effects.

From UNCSA: The latest figures by the National Endowment for the Arts show that the creative economy contributes $919.7 billion to the U.S. economy. UNCSA is training a highly skilled workforce for a multibillion-dollar global enterprise, which has unbounded potential for wealth and job creation in North Carolina. 

Supported in part by a $10-million private gift directed toward performance innovation, UNCSA has launched a new three-year M.F.A. concentration in its School of Design and Production in Animatronics. The program uses robotics to bring inanimate creatures/creations to life on stage, film, television, and in themed entertainment. It is the first of its kind in the nation. After recruiting during 2020-21, the Animatronics Program launched in fall 2021 with three students. 

Additionally, the School of Filmmaking’s Media + Emerging Technology Lab (METL) launched its Immersive Storytelling Residency, which brings together a cross-functional team of technical artists, game developers, and screenwriters to develop immersive projects using emerging technologies under the mentorship of UNCSA faculty and industry leaders. “Black Ice,” an interactive virtual reality short created during the 2021 residency, has been accepted to screen at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival – the first UNCSA-made film to do so. 


Low-income Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCSA will enroll 182 low-income students, a 7.7% increase over 2015 levels (13 additional low-income students over a base of 169).

Update: In fall 2020, UNCSA surpassed the goal of 176 with an actual of 190 and is on track to surpass the low-income enrollment goal of 182 in fall 2021.

From UNCSA: UNCSA has demonstrated that increased recruitment focused on Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties results in increased rural enrollments (see Rural Enrollments, above). Students in economically distressed counties are more likely to be from low-income families. 

Federal Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The number of students receiving Pell Grants at UNCSA in 2018-19 and in 2019-20 was higher than either 2020-21 or 2021-22, which were academic years affected by the pandemic. 

The pandemic has caused financial strain on many families, causing university affordability to be out-of-reach, and leaving low-income students hesitant to leave home to attend college. Four just-released national surveys of high school students in 2020 and 2021 found that only 48% were considering a four-year college, down 72%. 

Low-income Completions

By 2021-22, UNCSA will produce 43 low-income graduates, an increase of 30.3% (10 additional low-income completions over a base of 33).

Nutcracker production

Update: UNCSA produced 56 low-income graduates in 2019-20, well over the goal of 39 for the academic year, and is on track to surpass the goal of 43 in 2021-22.

From UNCSA: Known for its high-performing students and top-caliber performances, UNCSA offers a rigorous training program for student-artists who seek to become professional artists. But students from low-income families often struggle with the difficulty of full-time school and part-time work.

UNCSA established the Keep Me UNCSA Emergency Scholarship Fund to provide emergency financial assistance to support the cost of academic progress toward degree completion for high school, undergraduate or graduate students who experience unexpected need due to demonstrated adverse financial circumstances or extraordinary hardship. 

In addition, UNCSA has also established the Technology Fund, which supports technology needs for students in financial need. 

Federal pandemic aid was also available and awarded to students from low-income families. The total amount of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) III Emergency Financial Aid Grants distributed to students as of Dec. 31, 2021, was $536,450.00. The total of both HEERF I and HEERF II Emergency Financial Aid Grants distributed to students as of Sept. 30, 2021, was $868,886. 

And, as noted in Rural Completions above, Student Affairs provides support for students in the form of a general emergency fund and, for food-insecure students, the Pickle Pantry. 

Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCSA will improve its undergraduate degree efficiency to 20.0 over a base of 19.1.

Update: For the 2019-20 academic year, UNCSA improved its undergraduate degree efficiency to 23.9 over a goal of 19.6, and is on track to meet the goal of 20.0 in 2021-22.

From UNCSA: Due to the structure of the UNCSA curriculum, the four-year graduation rate is highly correlated with undergraduate degree efficiency. Efforts to improve graduation rates are provided in Five-Year Graduation Rates above.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNCSA moved totally online in March 2020. UNCSA statistics indicate that undergraduates in their fourth year persisted during spring 2020; however, other undergraduates did not. 


Research Productivity

By 2021-22, UNCSA will receive $151,018 in research and development sponsored program awards and licensing income, an increase of 5% ($7,171 additional over a five year average base of $143,847).

Update: UNCSA received $60,180 in FY 2020, well under the target goal of $143,847. However, UNCSA received $262,000 in 2019, more than the 2018 goal of $143,800 and more than the 2022 goal of $151,000. Fluctuations are to be expected in this area because of the limited number of grants and size of grants available each year.


Four grants totaling $66,000 went to the School of Filmmaking’s Media + Emerging Technology Lab (METL); three of them (from Epic Games MegaGrants, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Small Business and Technology Development Center) were for METL’s Immersive Storytelling Residency (see Critical Workforces, above). The fourth grant went to conference registration and fees. The program supports the pipeline of workforce preparedness and contributes to the immersive sector.   

In other awards: 

  • The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation gave $33,000 to subsidize Creative Catalyst Fellowships at Creative Greensboro, Elsewhere, and Mixxer.
  • The Duke Energy Foundation gave $5,000 to support the Happy Hill Arts Program, in the form of a matching grant to the Kenan Charitable Trust grant for Happy Hill capacity-building, used for summer arts education programming.
  • Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center gave $13,000 to support Artists Reaching Children in Hospitals (ARCH), an educational outreach activity of UNCSA, at the hospital. 

* UNCSA results for several metrics are subject to substantial year-to-year variation reflecting the relatively small size of the UNCSA student population (about 1,300). Modest headcount variations often result in relatively large percentage changes, contributing to fluctuations.