Editor’s note: The following opinion piece by Chancellor Randy Woodson appeared in the Aug. 16, 2014 edition of the News & Observer.
Two major credit agencies recently provided negative outlooks for investment in U.S. higher education, stressing lagging state investments, declining revenues and flat or falling enrollments.
While this may be true for pockets of colleges and universities across the nation, North Carolina’s public institutions are bucking that trend. With just one exception, all received stable or positive ratings from Moody’s.
Impact Beyond the Classroom
This does not mean there are no challenges for public higher education in North Carolina. Our differentiator is the proactive approach we’re taking to tackle those challenges, particularly at NC State, where we’re driven by a focus on partnerships, research and planning. The results are impressive, and they demonstrate the impact a university can make well beyond the classroom.
Partnerships among academia, industry and government are helping create a robust, hands-on academic environment for students, more research opportunities for faculty, bottom-line benefits for business, and a think-and-do culture that attracts the best and brightest.
Sponsored Research Funding Sets Record
The foundation of this approach is research, a vital economic driver in the state and the lifeblood of our larger higher education institutions. NC State just completed its most successful year in sponsored research funding, surpassing $300 million for the first time.
Record-breaking, industry-funded research highlighted the year, federally funded research neared an all-time high and we already have a great head start on next year. New projects with the U.S. Department of Energy to create a national advanced manufacturing institute and with the National Nuclear Security Administration to improve technological capabilities to detect nuclear proliferation — projects worth $140 million and $25 million over five years, bringing together academia, government and industry — are not included in our 2013-14 record-breaking funding.
Fundraising also continues to buck trends as NC State raised nearly $190 million from private sources in the 2013-14 fiscal year, an increase of 109 percent over just four years ago. Alumni, parents and a range of university supporters see how our focus on partnerships and research is creating new opportunities in the classroom and economic impact in the community — a great sign as we prepare to publicly launch the most ambitious fundraising campaign in our university’s history.
The real measure of success happens each summer when we prepare to welcome a new freshman class. This year’s class has higher high school grade-point averages and SAT scores than any previous class in history. Applications for admission continue to rise each year as prospective students also see the results of our strategic planning and the opportunities and relationships that a comprehensive research university fosters.
Investing in Faculty Excellence
As others invest in us, we’re strategically investing in ourselves. We’re putting the finishing touches on our Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program, which has recruited more than 40 new faculty members in three years — some of the top talent in the nation. These new faculty are breaking down walls between academic disciplines to more swiftly find solutions to the world’s most intractable problems. They are already making strong contributions to our campus and teaching us how to work outside our comfort zones.
We’re also working to help faculty bring their inventions into the marketplace through the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund. In three years, recipients have produced seven licensing events, started three companies, received $3.5 million in funding from federal and corporate sponsors, and boosted the state’s economy.
Attracting and keeping the best talent is not easy, but we believe the contributions these faculty will make over the course of their careers will yield exponential returns, both to NC State and to North Carolina.
Rather than focus on the negative, North Carolinians should understand that — thanks to their support — our state universities are on the right track. That means providing high-quality and affordable education to your sons and daughters, performing life-changing research, meeting the needs of communities from Murphy to Manteo and driving economic prosperity across the state.