UNC System president Margaret Spellings. Photo courtesy of UNC System.

During Monday’s State of the University at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus, the University of North Carolina System president Margaret Spellings spoke before an audience of city officials, members of education and local leaders. Each stop on the tour will offer a report on the current state of the campus, as well as the direction of the UNC system.

In the first appearance of her 2018 State of the University tour, Spellings highlighted UNC Charlotte in the community. “It’s fitting that we’re kicking off this State of the University tour here in Charlotte, at a university in a city both defined by growth, innovation and potential,” she said.

Touching on the university’s more than 70 year history in Charlotte, Spellings remarked on the institution, speaking to the bridge it offers to the diverse communities in the area and its connection to “the heart of uptown.”

Margaret Spellings arrives at UNC Charlotte Center City via light rail with UNC Charlotte Provost Joan Lorden and Philip Byers, a member of the UNC Board of Governors. Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte.

According to Spellings, graduation rates system-wide have risen by more than six percent over a five-year period, placing degrees in the hands of more than 2,000 additional students this year. With the system having produced an increase in yearly graduation rates of 29 percent since 2011, Spellings made clear that there is more work to be done, saying, “We’re pleased, but not satisfied.”

Following a report in 2015 by the Equality of Opportunity Project, Charlotte placed last among 50 of America’s largest cities when it comes to upward mobility in children born into the lowest income quintile. According to Spellings, “Higher education is a proven route for upward mobility.” She also reported that college students from the lowest quintile have a six percent higher chance of moving to a higher quintile than a student that doesn’t.

Spellings pointed out that with the growing amount of jobs requiring a degree, there is a need to provide workers with options. “I’m not a believer in college for all … but I am a believer in education and training beyond high school for everyone, whether that is in school, on the job or through military service,” she stated.

Spellings also addressed how the university system can improve beyond enrollment growth. “Right now, we reward enrollment growth but if we care about graduation rates, achievement gaps and creating a 21st century work force, our resources have to come together along those priorities as well,” she said.

As Spellings wrapped up her address, she pointed out the current climate of the divided public and the role that universities play in working with students. “What we do every day as public institutes and teachers matters. We have to stand behind the core values of free expression, intellectual diversity and patient engagement with new ideas. Our campuses bring together people from different backgrounds, together in the same place, debate the same books and navigate the same social life,” she said.

When speaking of these students and the impact they want to have on the world, Spellings said, “Anyone who says college students have lost their heads, their desire to be good citizens, just isn’t paying attention. But I promise you this: our students are paying attention to us.”

She followed this up with a call to action, pointing out that students are watching the actions of their community leaders, public officials, figures and institutions, and that there is a responsibility to strengthen the belief in what those groups stand for.

Kim Leaston is a News Staff Writer at Niner Times. As a senior Communication Studies major with minors in Journalism and Video Production, Kim is hoping to conquer the world by December 2018 (or at least graduate). When she isn't working, studying or plotting she can be found checking out the city with her fur baby Abby or visiting family in the 919.