UNC Leader Stresses Partnerships at Dinner
The president of the University of North Carolina system believes that strong partnerships between educators and Moore County's business community will guarantee future successes.
Thomas Ross was the keynote speaker Wednesday for the eighth annual dinner of Moore County Partners in Progress at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst.
The president of the 17-campus system told representatives from local businesses, organizations and governments that North Carolina's commitment to education is what sets the state apart from the rest of the nation. He said this commitment stems from the ongoing partnership cultivated between the system and local communities like Moore County.
He also stressed that significant investments in North Carolina's human capital are the keys to continuing to set the state apart as the country regains its strength economically.
"UNC institutions must play an even greater role in shaping the state's future," Ross said. "I truly hope and believe that all of us here in this room know beyond a shadow of a doubt that education truly is the key for transforming our local, regional and national economies."
He highlighted the various partnerships and connections evident between Moore County and the UNC System, such as the Moore County Cooperative Extension's programs administered by N.C. State University or UNC Pembroke's Moore County Entrepreneurship Group.
"We are about partnerships and we are about serving North Carolina in a variety of different ways," Ross said.
Of the 220,000 North Carolina residents enrolled in the system, 1,500 are Moore County residents in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Of those 1,500, 275 students are participating in various programs offered at Sandhills Community College, which Ross credited as a model pathway for many individuals who may not readily have access to higher education.
"That's the kind of relationship that makes education available," he said.
Ross added that since 2008, more than $15 million in research has been conducted in Moore County by the university system. He said that according to Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State, for each million spent in research funding, 16 jobs are directly created, along with 37 secondary jobs.
Ross echoed the sentiments of outgoing Partners in Progress Executive Director Ray Ogden, who credited Moore County's diverse economy for the county's resilience during the economic downturn.
He stressed that access to higher education will be more imperative for the state's future, saying that by 2018, an estimated 59 percent of N.C. jobs would require some level of post-high school graduation.
"We have a job to do as we move into the future - help our policy makers and help the people of North Carolina be reminded of not just how important education is, but also how important the University of North Carolina is to our future," he said.
Ross added that education also matters from an earnings standpoint, saying that N.C. workers with at least a four-year degree earn twice as much as high school graduates and 70 percent more than those with some college. He said that the additional income earned with a degree gives citizens the ability to participate in the state and local economy and also pay taxes that fund resources and promote growth for the state.
Ross expressed gratitude to the legislators who worked with the system to make state budget cuts less severe, but he readily admitted that the system would face challenges moving forward.
"We have a choice to make," he said. "We can moan and groan about it, or we can accept what we have and make it work for the students of North Carolina. That's what we are going to do."
Despite economic constraints, Ross said the system remains committed to making education more accessible for North Carolinians. He said the system intends to keep tuition rates as low as possible, while also focusing on raising educational attainment and graduating more students.
Ross said one of his biggest concerns moving forward is maintaining resources for financial aid, which is utilized by 60 percent of the students in the system. He added that 60 percent of the Moore County residents currently enrolled in the system utilize financial aid.
Ross said that the system only expects to see continued decreases in state and federal funding for financial aid in the coming years. The system expects to spend $35 million less in financial aid next year.
"That's a real concern," he said. "And it should be a real concern for all of us if we're going to prepare the work force that we need for the future."
Ross said that despite all the gloom of imminent cuts, he continues to see exciting progress in research and technology systemwide and various spin-off jobs resulting from these advancements.
Ross said it is this progress that lays the foundation for a better tomorrow for all North Carolinians.
"It's not just that jobs are created," he said. "And it's not just that leaders are produced, and it's not just that education happens and partnerships occur. It's about the quality of life for people in this state and beyond."
Ross became president of the UNC System Jan. 1 after leaving his position as president of Davidson College.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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