North Carolina’s high school graduation rates are the highest in history – a result of years of hard work by the state’s education sectors. In addition, public-private education partnerships on projects such as the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) have raised the state’s college-going rate above the national average. North Carolina is moving in a positive direction in education and is continuing efforts to address key challenges such as affordability and increasing college completion by our significant number of first-generation college students.
North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) – the state’s private, non-profit, higher education sector of 36 liberal arts, comprehensive, and research campuses – plays a significant role in helping North Carolina reach its attainment goals. In addition to awarding one in four bachelor’s degrees and one in three graduate and professional degrees in the state each year (including 92 percent of physician assistant degrees, 60 percent of law degrees, 55 percent of pharmacy degrees, and about half of the medical degrees), North Carolina’s independent colleges and universities build and strengthen our local communities by helping meet the educational, employment, and cultural needs across the state. Our campuses work closely with state leaders, the business sector, and local governments in ways that are revitalizing North Carolina’s economy and offering citizens new opportunities.
Take for instance the remarkable transformation of Winston-Salem, beginning with the revitalization of the Innovation Quarter, a project largely driven by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Wake Forest University. Now home to more than 160 companies and five leading academic institutions (public and private), the Innovation Quarter is a place for research, business, and education in biomedical science, information technology, digital media, clinical services, and advanced materials. This innovative space currently comprises nearly two million square feet of office, laboratory, and educational space filled with more than 3,600 workers, 1,800 degree-seeking students, and 8,000 workforce trainee participants – many of whom live in the 800 residential units in or near the Innovation Quarter.
The Innovation Quarter is the direct result of tremendous teamwork and community spirit. A variety of stakeholders have come together for the common good of Winston Salem – city and county officials, major corporations and foundations, and the higher education sector. All have worked mightily to transform the economic base of this area from textiles and tobacco to knowledge and technology. All have been willing to invest, to work together, to compromise, to adapt and adjust – and to persist, month in and month out, steadily making progress on complicated and often challenging issues.
In developing this economic engine for Winston-Salem, Wake Forest is an excellent example of the strides NCICU campuses are making to partner with their communities. In 2015, Wake Forest University first announced it would offer undergraduate classes in the Innovation Quarter at a STEM-centric, urban campus called Wake Downtown. Since the doors of Wake Downtown opened nearly 18 months ago, Wake Forest students have had the opportunity to explore more fully the intersection of arts and science, scholarship and entrepreneurship, and tradition and innovation. The University’s presence downtown has contributed to the growing synergy among the city’s academic institutions, by supporting intellectual collaboration, research opportunities, and community engagement. In addition, it has created new pipelines into the city’s burgeoning knowledge economy through new academic offerings such as an undergraduate engineering program.
The partnership between Wake Forest and Winston-Salem leading to the development of the Innovation Quarter exemplifies the historic relationships of private colleges and universities with their communities and the state. These relationships contribute immensely to the ability of the citizens of North Carolina to increase their educational attainment.
NCICU campuses, in collaboration with the other education sectors on the Governor’s Education Cabinet, will continue to develop partnerships that move the state toward increased educational attainment, including the most recent goals established by Governors Perdue (including reaching a high school graduation rate of 86 percent by 2016-17, which was achieved), McCrory (67 percent of citizens with some post-secondary credential by 2025) and Cooper (to be among the 10 most educated states). As myFutureNC works to build upon these efforts, resources such as the Innovation Quarter will help generate ideas for innovation and opportunities to strengthen our world-class education continuum for students, families and employers.
Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by The Hunt Institute. It has been posted with the author’s permission.