Five-year Goals and Associated Interim Benchmarks

In January 2017, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina unanimously approved Higher Expectations, a five-year Strategic Plan for the UNC System. The Plan calls on the UNC System to achieve ambitious goals in access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement, and institutional excellence and diversity.

Progress on these goals and metrics will be achieved through the hard work and commitment of institutional leaders, faculty, and staff. In that spirit, University of North Carolina Wilmington has identified these contributions that University of North Carolina Wilmington aspires to make to the UNC Strategic Plan over the next five years.


Low-income Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCW will enroll 3,576 low-income students, a 7.5% increase over 2015 levels (248 additional low-income students over a base of 3,328).

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has successfully recruited students from lower-income backgrounds and, as of fall 2017, surpassed its 2021 performance goal by 7.1%. This accomplishment is the result of numerous efforts to make higher education more accessible to students from all backgrounds. The university introduces the possibility of college education through youth programs and K-12 school partnerships. Admissions actively recruits well- qualified students from lower-income backgrounds, and the Office of Financial Aid offers programs specifically to assist them. The story of alumnus Bruce Hernandez ’18, who thought he would be unable to attend college, illustrates the effectiveness of programs that support student success. Hernandez credits UNCW’s Centro Hispano with encouraging him to continue his education. Through giving campaigns and targeted fundraising, UNCW has increased endowments that support scholarships to help students realize their dreams of a college education. Additionally, UNCW has increased outreach to students in rural high schools, Pell Grant recipients, and first-generation college students regarding financial aid resources and other support services available to them.

Rural Enrollments

By fall 2021, UNCW will enroll 4,220 rural students, a 5.3% increase over 2016 levels (212 additional rural students over a base of 4,008).

From UNC Wilmington: Although UNCW attracts students from around the globe, the rural regions of eastern North Carolina are an important source of students. As of fall 2018, UNCW already had surpassed its 2021 performance goal by more than 30 students; however, the university remains committed to increasing opportunities for students from rural areas, particularly counties designated as Tiers I and II—those counties that lack behind the rest of the state in terms of economic development. To enhance student enrollments from rural areas, the university launched the Pathways to Excellence program, which centers on partnership agreements with community colleges across the state, including Beaufort County, Bladen, Edgecombe, Halifax, James Sprunt, Johnston, Nash, and others. Admissions representatives made recruiting visits to 71 of the 80 Tier I and II counties in the 2017-18 academic year. So far in 2018-19, the Admissions staff has visited 67 Tier I and II counties in North Carolina, despite a nearly month-long disruption due to Hurricane Florence. Seventy percent of Admissions visits in 2016-17 were to Tier I and II counties. To recruit transfer students, UNCW also frequently holds “Apply on the Fly” events at community colleges throughout central and southeastern North Carolina. Sixteen such events are scheduled for spring semester 2019. The Seahawk Reaching and Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE) program is designed for first-year students from rural counties across North Carolina. Seahawk RISE, coordinated by UNCW’s University College, helps rural students engage with the university and the community. Students have access to an assigned advisor, peer mentor, and a range of campus resources. Enrolling more rural students will enhance the region’s skilled workforce and potentially help drive economic development in these communities, particularly if the students earn degrees in critical workforce areas such as health care and teaching. Distance Learning also provides access to UNCW and is especially suited to students who work or do not live near a university campus.

Achievement Gaps in Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCW will reduce by 50% the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency between low income and non-low income students.

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has been recognized by The Education Trust for efforts to decrease the achievement gap among underrepresented populations. As of fall 2017, UNCW had nearly reached its 2021 goal to reduce the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency by 50%. Like many of its peer institutions, the university continues to face the challenge of reducing the achievement gap among low-income students. The commitment to narrowing the gap is linked to degree completions, so all retention and student-support initiatives inherently contribute to that effort. UNCW has also initiated programs that focus on the needs of first-generation college students, low-income and rural students, and others whose personal circumstances may present a barrier to degree completion. Seahawk LEADS, a mentoring program, inspires students to focus on degree completion by providing resources and guidance. Another initiative, Seahawk Success, encourages former students to return to UNCW to finish their degrees.

Research Productivity

By 2021-22, UNCW will receive $19,320,362 in research and development sponsored program awards and licensing income, an increase of 134% ($11,063,797 additional over a base of $8,256,565).

From UNC Wilmington: In December 2018, UNCW was elevated to “Doctoral Universities: High Research Activity” in the newly released Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. That classification should help UNCW attract even more top-tier research faculty and students.

The university received $9,328,856 in research grants for 219 projects in the 2017-18 academic year, just short of its 2018 benchmark, and continues to conduct research that has practical applications both regionally and globally. Among the most significant projects was the launch of SeaHawk-1, a small cube satellite developed by a team led by physics and physical oceanography professor John M. Morrison. It will capture high-resolution color images to monitor biological changes in the oceans. Other recent grant recipients include Narcisa Pricope, who is leading a team that will use tandem drones to map the advancement of an invasive marsh reed species in coastal North Carolina. A UNC Charlotte robotics professor and two graduate student researchers are involved in the project, which is funded by a UNC System Inter-Institutional Planning Grant. Darin Penneys, a UNCW assistant professor of biology and marine biology, is part of an international team of botanists collecting and identifying plants and lichens unique to the Philippines as part of a $1.3 million National Science Foundation grant. The team hopes to catalog species at risk of extinction due to rapid deforestation and climate change.  

UNCW excels in coastal and marine research, with well-equipped lab facilities at the CREST Research Park. Faculty, students and staff conduct globally significant research across multiple disciplines, institutions and agencies. While many universities prioritize graduate research, UNCW programs such as ETEAL (Experiencing Transformative Education through Applied Learning) and SURCA (Support for Undergraduate Research and Creativity) provide dynamic undergraduate research opportunities. The university creates connections among researchers and business and product development mentors through programs offered by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In fall 2018, the university was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the “5th most innovative” public university in the South.

Research activity at UNCW was challenged by widespread damage from Hurricane Florence in September 2018, including the loss of the university’s main science lab building, Dobo Hall, which will undergo extensive renovations and has required construction of temporary lab facilities. Despite these disruptions, the university continues to make progress toward its research productivity goal.

Critical Workforces

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 2,125 critical workforce credentials, an increase of 34.2% (542 additional critical workforce credentials over a base of 1,583).

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW surpassed its 2017-18 benchmark and has achieved 94% of its 2021 goal for critical workforce credentials. UNCW is committed to preparing students for high-demand career fields by enhancing current programs and establishing new degree programs. In December 2018, UNCW received its largest gift commitment to date, $10 million to establish the David S. Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems within the Cameron School of Business. In November 2018, the university also was named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, a designation that will allow UNCW students to compete favorably for cybersecurity jobs with federal agencies and government contractors.

Beginning in 2019, UNCW will become the first university in the nation to offer a BS in Coastal Engineering, pending final approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The growing College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) has added new health sciences programs, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. The university is developing master’s programs in athletic training and high-demand healthcare fields. MS and Ph.D. programs in pharmaceutical science are in development, and UNCW has added programs in other STEM fields, including data science. Other promising areas include clinical research, chemistry, and pharmaceutical sciences, growth industries with a strong presence in North Carolina. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates steady growth in marine- and environmental- related civil engineering fields in the coming years. Veterans Hall will open in 2020 to house CHHS and chemistry and biochemistry programs. A new STEM building is a future capital project priority. The Watson College of Education graduates teachers who are well-prepared for the classroom and, in an effort to address ongoing teacher shortages, has added programs for STEM majors seeking teaching credentials and for classroom teachers who want to integrate STEM throughout their curriculum.


Low-income Completions

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 1,406 low-income graduates, an increase of 26.7% (296 additional low-income completions over a base of 1,110).

From UNC Wilmington: The U.S. Department of Education has recognized UNCW for its efforts to support students and help them complete their degrees. The university’s 83% freshman retention rate reflects those efforts. University College, which helps first-year students transition to UNCW, and the dean of Undergraduate Studies play key roles in retention and completions. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion also offers programs designed for students who may be first-generation college students. Organizations such as Centro Hispano and the Upperman African American Cultural Center help students engage with the university community and support their academic goals. Financial aid – including Pell Grants and SOAR scholarships – and work-study programs help offset the cost of higher education. The university enlisted a group of student leaders to help students stay abreast of application timelines to maximize financial aid. The Seahawk LEADS (Leadership, Empowerment, Academic Development and Success) program pairs first-year students with a faculty or staff mentor. Studies show that students with mentors are more likely to graduate than their peers who lack mentors.

Rural Completions

By 2021-22, UNCW will produce 1,080 rural graduates, an increase of 15.8% (147 additional rural completions over a base of 933).

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW met its 2017-18 benchmark and has surpassed its performance goal by 9%. Seahawk RISE is designed especially for rural students and helps them engage with the campus and the local community, beginning in their freshman year. With several large military bases within 100 miles, UNCW has been recognized for extending educational opportunities to active-duty service members, veterans and military families. The UNCW@Onslow campus in Jacksonville provides onsite, online, and blended programs that serve not only the military but also residents of Onslow and other rural counties, especially in southeastern North Carolina. Distance learning also makes it easier for people, especially working adults, who do not live within convenient driving distance of a university campus to complete their degrees. UNCW ranks 8th in the nation on the U.S. News & World Report list of “2019 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.” The Pathways to Excellence program, which incorporates agreements that help students easily transfer from rural community colleges to UNCW, has been expanded to more than 15 counties, including Robeson, Sampson, and Wayne, among others. A State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation collaboration with UNCW provides public service internships with nonprofits in rural counties, an arrangement that benefits both the agencies and the students who participate in a meaningful applied-learning experience. Students from rural communities are encouraged to apply. Fifty-nine students have participated in the program since 2016, and a new group of students will be placed with nonprofit partners in summer 2019.

Five-year Graduation Rates

By 2022, UNCW will improve its five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution to 81.6%. This is an improvement over a base of 78.4% for UNCW’s 2010 cohort.

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW’s five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution of 80.8 percent is among the highest in the UNC System. The university’s strategic focus is to provide an affordable, high-quality education that prepares students to compete in a global workforce. UNCW is a student-centered campus with a strong emphasis on teaching and mentoring. This video discusses programs designed to help students position themselves for success. University College supports students as they explore undergraduate curriculum and career paths, prepare to declare an appropriate major, and succeed in their transition to UNCW. This contact empowers students to make informed academic choices, which position them for success. With funding from the UNC System, UNCW has enhanced services to reduce the number of “stop-outs” (students who leave without graduating). Key among these efforts is Seahawk Success, which encourages former students to return to complete their degrees. In a related initiative, a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies offers students who “stopped out” a choice of several academic tracks that incorporate their previous credits as well as life and work experiences to help them complete a degree.


Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, UNCW will maintain its undergraduate degree efficiency at its current level of 26.1.

From UNC Wilmington: UNCW has surpassed its goal to sustain undergraduate degree efficiency, which increased to 28.6 as of 2017-18. Successes in initiatives named in the previous performance metrics that center on retention of students, graduation rates, and degree completion will continue to raise the university’s undergraduate degree efficiency. The development of programs in high-demand fields like coastal engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, and cybersecurity, as well as expanded online options, are examples of programs that will enable UNCW to maintain or increase its undergraduate degree efficiency. As new programs are added, some departments, including the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, have taken steps to align academic requirements to enable more students to double major or to add a minor to their degrees, which will better position graduates to succeed in a globally competitive job market. Relationships with regional businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies enhance student internship opportunities. Students who can see how their classroom learning applies in the workforce are more likely to remain focused on their academic goals, including on-time completion of degree programs.

River Bondurant ’18, a double major in communication studies and Spanish who is now pursuing a master’s degree in Spanish, credits the support she received from many departments and divisions with helping her achieve her academic goals and earn her undergraduate degrees within three years. “I know I have a family in the Communication Studies Department, a shoulder to lean on in the Spanish Department, coworkers in the Office of University Relations who are always willing to lend a hand, and fellow tutors in the University Learning Center who would be there for me in a heartbeat,” she said. “I have so many people that genuinely care about me and my success surrounding me at UNCW.”

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