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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                           

Sixteen public universities, brought together in 1971, are strong and thriving after 50 years

RALEIGH – The University of North Carolina System is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of its 16-campus university system.

In 1971, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation bringing the state’s 10 remaining public senior institutions into the existing six-campus UNC 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.

They joined North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina at Asheville, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In 1985, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was declared an affiliate school, and it became a constituent institution of the UNC System in 2007.

The anniversary was marked Tuesday at North Carolina State University, featuring musical performances from students and the inauguration of UNC System President Peter Hans.

“This is a moment of both pride and reflection as we ponder the legacy of public higher education in our state and plan ahead for a bright future,” Hans said of the anniversary. “Decades ago, North Carolina’s policymakers believed we could strengthen our public universities by combining them under one system. Today, our campuses are thriving – enrollment is up, retention is up, graduation is up, research is up, public funding is up, and tuition is flat. Our eyes are focused on the horizon.”

The history of the UNC System is rich. Some campuses were women’s colleges, Historically Black Colleges or Universities, or American Indian-serving institutions. Today, while these histories still influence the distinctive identities of UNC’s campuses, all institutions welcome and embrace gender, sexual, cultural, and ethnic diversity, reflecting North Carolina’s rich heritage and demographics.

The UNC System enrolls nearly 250,000 students across 17 campuses. It is one of the strongest and most diverse higher education systems in the country, with over $1.5 billion in research expenditures and universities that serve every region of the state. Affiliate organizations include UNC Health, PBS North Carolina, the North Carolina Arboretum, UNC Press, and the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.

Click here to explore an interactive timeline and here to view a video about the UNC System’s 50-year history.