The Pulse

Report: UNC President Spellings to lead North Carolina education commission

By: - October 19, 2017 4:52 pm
UNC System President Margaret Spellings

UNC System President Margaret Spellings will lead a new commission of influential business and political leaders that aims to shape North Carolina policy on K-12 and higher education, The News & Observer reports.

Spellings announced the My Future N.C. commission this week, tapping a slate of nominees with connections to Gov. Roy Cooper and Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, and elected officials such as Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson. The roster also includes longtime conservative education reformer and booster Art Pope.

From The N&O:

The effort is led by UNC President Margaret Spellings, who will co-chair a group of 30 leaders along with Dale Jenkins, chief executive officer of Medical Mutual Holdings, and Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer of Bank of America.

Spellings said it became clear to her that North Carolina needed a “shared vision” for getting more people better education, from pre-K to high school and beyond. National education players, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, had told the UNC Board of Governors that North Carolina was among a few states that had no common agreement on educational attainment, which is generally defined as the highest degree an individual has completed.

In 2015, 29.4 percent of North Carolinians 25 and older held a four-year college degree, and 86.6 percent had a high school diploma. Both measures have risen steadily in the past two decades, though North Carolina is behind the U.S. average.

Economic mobility – the chance that a poor child will rise to the middle class – is lower in North Carolina than in many other states, and the state’s per capita income is 34th in the country, according to U.S. data from 2010-14.

“If we’re going to be a top educated state, if we’re going to be a large and growing economy, what do we need in terms of developing human capital?” Spellings said. “Two-year credentials? Four-year degrees? Ph.Ds? How does that translate into high school graduation, third grade reading, and what are the barriers that are keeping us from doing that now?”

Previously, different sectors have had their own achievement goals, but there has been no overarching plan adopted by all the players.

“Until you get everyone at the table, it ends up being a footnote in a report,” Spellings said, adding, “It’s hard to get a game plan for doing something if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.”

The first step is to arrive at the goal, she said. The second is to craft specific strategies for getting there. Spellings envisions more clear pathways between community colleges and universities, better transitions between K-12 and community colleges or universities, better ways to help high school students understand college options and financial aid. She said higher education has to make sure it is doing all it can to train teachers and provide research to help the state reach third-grade reading goals.

One item that Spellings has been keen on is having a standardized credit acceptance policy at colleges for Advanced Placement courses taken by high school students. She said the state has invested a lot in AP and then students don’t end up getting credit based on individual college policies.

Part of the strategy is getting stakeholders on board and invested in the process, Spellings said.

The commission includes some heavy hitters in North Carolina business, education and philanthropy, including representatives from Republican leadership in the state House and Senate and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

The commission will begin its work next month and continue for the next year to 18 months, producing two reports. One will recommend goals for educational attainment and outline obstacles that could stand in the way of those goals. The other report will put forth specific policy recommendations to achieve the goals.

“Higher education is an absolute imperative for the future of our state and our workforce,” Smith, one of the co-chairs, said in a statement. “Two of every three new jobs now require some form of post-secondary education – whether that’s training credentials, an associate degree, a four-year degree or higher. This reality underscores how critical education is to career growth and how important it is to increasing economic mobility.”

The full list of commission members includes, according to The N&O:


Dale Jenkins, chief executive officer of Medical Mutual Holdings

Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer of Bank of America

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina

Steering Committee

Ann Goodnight, the Goodnight Education Foundation, co-chair

Jennifer Haygood, acting president of the N.C. Community College System, co-chair

Mark Johnson, state superintendent

Anna Spangler Nelson, UNC Board of Governors

MC Belk Pilon, John M. Belk Endowment

Commission Members

Gus Agudelo, member, Asheboro City Schools Board of Education

Weston Andress, regional president – Western Carolina, The PNC Financial Services Group

Peter Barnes, reverend, First Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem

David Belcher, chancellor, Western Carolina University

Jim Blaine, chief of staff to President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, N.C. Senate

Jack Cecil, CEO, Biltmore Farms LLC

Liz Chen, co-founder, MyHealthEd Inc.

Jeff Cox, president, Wilkes Community College

David Dodson, president, MDC

Beverly Emory, superintendent, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County

Don Flow, CEO, Flow Automotive

John Fraley, representative, N.C. House of Representatives

Sonja Gantt, executive director, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Public Schools

Dan Gerlach, president, Golden LEAF

James Gilliard, pastor, Word Tabernacle Church, Rocky Mount

Rocio Gonzalez, executive director, Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte

Maurice “Mo” Green, executive director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

Mary Hall, chief academic officer, Carolinas Healthcare System

Venessa Harrison, president, AT&T – North Carolina

Nicole Hurd, CEO, College Advising Corps

Darryl Moss, mayor, Creedmoor

David Mounts, chairman and CEO, Inmar

Jenni Owen, policy director, N.C. Office of the Governor

Art Pope, president and chairman, John William Pope Foundation

Donald Porter, retired U.S. Army Colonel, former chair of Fayetteville State University Board of Trustees,

Todd Roberts, chancellor, N.C. School of Sciences and Mathematics

Ricardo Romero, AVP of Business Development, First Bank

Tammi Sutton, executive director, KIPP Eastern North Carolina

Hope Williams, president, N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities

Stelfanie Williams, president, Vance-Granville Community College

Brad Wilson, president and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield

Mary Winston, former CFO, Family Dollar

Oscar Wong, founder, Highland Brewing Co.

Tracy Zimmerman, executive director, N.C. Early Childhood Foundation

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Billy Ball

Billy Ball, worked at NC Policy Watch from 2016 to 2020 — first as an education reporter and later as managing editor.