Pathways to Success Pat McCrory’s Plan for Higher Education

“Starting in high school and continuing through our higher education system, we must ensure our students are on the right path to acquiring marketable skills that will lead to a productive and satisfying career. My goal is for every student to get a job after they graduate – not move back in with his or her parents. To do that, we must emphasize skill attainment in our community colleges and universities, use our resources more efficiently and measure success in a comprehensive way.”

- Pat McCrory

Introduction

With a network of excellent community colleges, renowned state universities and some of the most outstanding private institutions of higher learning in the world, North Carolina has a strong educational foundation that gives North Carolinians numerous paths to success. Higher education has always been, and must continue to be, the great transmitter of cultural, intellectual and technical resources from one generation to the next. Our state’s world-class research and medical centers are also vitally important to our state’s economy and attract billions of outside dollars to the state.  A McCrory administration will encourage this critical academic and research mission to attain ever-greater heights of achievement through the application of scholarship, rigorous standards and a strengthened competition in ideas and ideals.

Despite our strong higher education system, our state is saddled with one of the worst unemployment rates in the country. In these tough economic times, we must not narrow the focus of North Carolina’s higher education system; instead, we must strengthen and improve our universities and community colleges. A McCrory administration will work with education and business leaders to make sure our community colleges and universities more effectively and efficiently help North Carolinians complete a degree program to attain marketable skills, find a job and help grow our economy.

Starting in high school and continuing through higher education, it is essential to help students find the path to success that is right for them because simply having an advanced degree no longer guarantees a job. A recent study found half of recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees nationwide are unemployed or underemployed. In North Carolina, there also has been an unacceptable rise in the number of citizens with some college coursework but no degree, poor job prospects and mounting student debt.

To ensure that North Carolina’s higher education system provides every citizen a pathway to success, a McCrory administration will work to:

1.    Help Students Find the Path to Success that is Right for Them;
2.   Ensure Students Are Attaining Marketable Skills to Enter the Workforce;
3.   Encourage Degree Completion;
4.   Integrate Resources Across Campuses and Expand Use of Technology to Improve Educational Quality and Drive Down Costs.

Pat McCrory wholeheartedly believes we must constantly strive to improve our higher education system to make sure every North Carolina degree and certification is worth more than the paper it is printed on – that a North Carolina degree constitutes a ticket to personal achievement, skill attainment, academic advancement and employment in the North Carolina and global economy.

1) Help Students Find the Path to Success that is Right for Them

North Carolina has a proud tradition of supporting higher education in all its forms. Pat McCrory’s plan for K-12 education would provide two pathways to a high school degree: one that prepares students for a four-year degree, and a second vocational path that would prepare students for the work force or additional technical training. A McCrory administration will make it a primary focus in higher education to ensure that students are on the right path to acquiring the skills that will help them find a job, whether that path is in the liberal arts or technical training.

If we’re going to connect our citizens to the jobs in demand and solve our unemployment crisis, we must stop propagating the myth that everyone has to go to a four-year university. A McCrory administration will fight to end the stigma often associated with vocational occupations. In many cases, an individual with vocational or technical training can earn more than someone with a bachelor’s degree or even a law degree. A McCrory administration will:

Strengthen Higher Education by Strengthening K-12 Education

By strengthening our K-12 schools and providing multiple paths to a high school degree, a McCrory administration will free up resources in our community colleges and universities by spending less on remediation for those who have completed high school. Millions of taxpayer dollars are diverted every year at community colleges and universities to re-teach students the basic skills they should have mastered in high school. In all, some 65 percent of high school graduates entering North Carolina community colleges in 2010-11 needed remedial coursework. Pat McCrory believes this is unacceptable, and as governor, he will work to break down the silos and strengthen the system as a whole.

Provide More Aggressive Community College Career Counseling

A well-trained and educated work force is required if we are to have strong economic development and good jobs in our state. That includes vocational training, technical training and educational training for those who want to matriculate to one of our four-year institutions. If ever community colleges needed to be strong, it is now. Community colleges will be a priority in the McCrory administration, and Pat McCrory will work with North Carolina’s community colleges to provide aggressive career counseling to high school students not planning to attend four-year colleges, especially those in schools with low graduation rates.

Fix North Carolina’s ‘Reemployment’ System

Our higher education system, and community colleges in particular, are vital to North Carolina’s ‘reemployment’ system that seeks to help North Carolinians get back on their feet. Our reemployment efforts are too often disparate; we must create cohesion and accountability to help North Carolinians gain long-term employment.

2) Ensure Students Are Attaining Marketable Skills to Enter the Workforce

Too many graduates are finding that their degree does not provide them with a marketable skill set to get a job. We need to work more closely with businesses and educational leaders to guarantee the quality of a North Carolina degree for every course of study. To this end, a McCrory administration will work to create an important feedback loop for students and parents as they choose their educational path, measure and ensure the quality of North Carolina degree and ease the ability to share best practices between campuses and industries. A McCrory administration will:

Expand Partnership Between Higher Education and Economic Development

In a McCrory administration, community college and university leaders will have a seat at the table as North Carolina creates and executes an economic development strategy. North Carolina’s community colleges and universities both have a strong tradition of partnering with business and research institutions to better align educational programs with current and future market demand. Pat McCrory will work to spread and amplify these practices across the state.

Promote Enrollment in High-Demand Fields

North Carolina has earned a reputation as a world leader in many advanced fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology. North Carolina universities must continually reassess and improve plans to make sure our state has a workforce trained in vital industries such as Agriculture; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields; and Healthcare.

Measure Program Success and Share Best Practices

As governor, Pat McCrory will work with education and industry leaders to develop a comprehensive and innovative approach to measure program success rates and student job attainment. This approach must encompass both community colleges and universities, and draw on existing resources from North Carolina’s already substantial performance measurement systems to create a single, transparent operation.

Define Expected Skill Attainment for Each Course of Study

Every student who invests in a higher education and earns a degree in North Carolina should be assured they will attain a certain set of skills relevant to the marketplace. Pat McCrory will promote an initiative across North Carolina’s higher education system to clearly define the skills attained in every course of study.

Require Curricular Input from Employment Decision-Makers

In designing curricula, community colleges and universities must standardize interaction between instructors, business leaders and human resource specialists in their field.  This common-sense approach draws on the industry knowledge of those who actually hire graduates.

Fight Grade Inflation

We must ensure that a degree from a North Carolina institution continues to signify a quality education. North Carolina’s higher education institutions must fight grade inflation where it exists because it curbs the demand for excellence and denies students a return on investment. If students receive the same grade for outstanding work that they get for average work, they are not motivated to excel. A McCrory administration will work with North Carolina institutions to develop policies to combat grade inflation.

3) Encourage Degree Completion

Graduation rates for associate degree programs are often well below 40 percent and are below 50 percent at many of our four-year institutions. Low completion rates indicate we are either not doing enough to help students succeed on their chosen path or are not doing everything possible to help students find the path that’s right for them. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers. A McCrory administration will:

Foster Performance-Based Initiatives

Pat McCrory will work with education leaders to expand and develop performance-based initiatives for universities and community colleges to improve accountability, program completion and overall student achievement. It is important for North Carolina to develop a funding mechanism to reward schools that lead students to employment.

Incentivize Students to Graduate Early

A McCrory administration will work with North Carolina schools to provide financial incentives to students who finish their degree program early while meeting a minimum grade level.

Encourage Transfer Students to First Complete Associate Degree

Students who first complete their associate degree before transferring to a four-year program have greater success and save taxpayers money. As governor, Pat McCrory will work with education leaders to encourage this route for students who hope to transfer from community college to a university. This will help keep the college transfer programs in our community colleges strong and provide students a dependable path to a four-year degree and the workforce.

4) Integrate Resources Across Campuses and Expand Use of Technology to Improve Educational Quality and Drive Down Costs

North Carolina must break free from the silos that divide our education system and share resources and expertise to provide students the best possible education in the most efficient manner. The North Carolina Education Cabinet is important for coordinating education efforts in our state, but it has been underutilized. Our next governor must show leadership by bringing the Education Cabinet together regularly to address long-term issues facing higher education in North Carolina and to ensure good communication, cooperation and results.  To ensure the most efficient use of our state’s $3.5 billion investment in education, a McCrory administration will:

Expand Use of Technology

Currently, our colleges and universities are only scratching the surface of potential interactive, multimedia and diagnostic teaching technology. There are still many barriers preventing students from gaining access to the best teachers and professors across the state. Pat McCrory will work with North Carolina’s education leaders to continually improve distance learning capabilities across campuses and to avail college courses to mid-career professionals and others who cannot attend a brick and mortar classroom.

Develop a Strict Approval Process for New Capital Projects

Across North Carolina, many classroom facilities are already underutilized. We must use our existing resources to the fullest before authorizing expansion. Pat McCrory will require schools to provide a stronger practical justification for more space before new capital projects are approved on university and community college campuses.

Require Institutions to Share Best Practices, Expertise and Administrative Resources Across Campuses

A McCrory administration will work with university and community college leaders to facilitate the sharing of resources across campuses. For example, savings could be achieved by streamlining the application process. Our higher education system must also look to reduce academic duplication by consolidating courses and degrees to achieve cost savings and greater efficiency.