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Ross Discusses UNC Job, Challenge In Providing 'Affordable Access'

WFAE's Greg Collard spoke to Davidson President Tom Ross after he was named the next president of the University of North Carolina system. Ross was on his way back from Chapel Hill when he spoke to WFAE. Here's a transcript of that conversation. You can also listen to it here. Tom Ross: Well I think I have always felt a calling to public service and this particular opportunity is certainly a place where I feel like I can serve the state of North Carolina and the people of North Carolina. The university and its 17 campuses is in really in my view one of the most if not the most important institution to the state's future. Educating our citizens is critical and I think the university also can play a real role in helping the state recover from the economic crisis. Greg Collard: I wanted to ask you a little about that. Here's what you said today in your acceptance speech: "I believe the University can and must reach out to offer new ideas and hands on assistance that can encourage and bolster economic growth and enhance community well-being in our rural areas, our urban areas, and everywhere in between." What types of things would you like the UNC system to do in regard to the economy? Ross: Well, I think the system has already done a lot of things and continues to do a lot of things. You think about our agriculture outreach program through the ag agencies that are out in communities helping farmers understand how to increase production, how to convert to organic crops, how to clean up waste from animals in an environmentally sound way. There's also a lot of very powerful and encouraging research going on across the state at the university campuses. We need to have a particular focus on that research that might produce discoveries and ideas that could lead to new businesses, that could lead to enhancing the production of businesses we already have because that's what it's going to take to turn this economy around. Collard: What have you learned at Davidson that's helped prepare you for this job? Ross: Well, I think I had a pretty good background and experience in management and budgets and those kinds of parts of running any institution. I think the unique additional experiences I've had at Davidson have had to do with, first, really understanding the value of education and watching our students on a very up-close basis grow and mature personally and intellectually and be ready then after that education to be able to go out in the community and make a real difference. I think the other thing I've learned is I've learned to be able to put my finger on and identify excellence because Davidson has an excellent product. The quality of education there is very, very high. Collard: At Davidson, you've helped implement the Davidson Trust. For those who don't know, the Davidson Trust helps students pay for tuition through grants and campus employment instead of loans so they don't leave school deep in debt. Is there any way to apply something similar to the UNC system? Ross: I think there are some efforts with the Carolina Covenants... and others that are out there already. The key is financial aid. That's what the Davidson Trust is about. What's important going forward is that our young people have access to high quality education. We have a state that has people who come from all sorts of different socioeconomic backgrounds, so I think we have to figure out a way to ensure that every one of them has access - and it has to be affordable access. That's the challenge, and we have to look for ways to address that challenge. Perhaps the challenge that Davidson still faces and really every institution of higher education faces is how do you make it possible for the middle class to also afford higher education? Increasingly, the cost is going up. For many families that are not eligible for financial aid it's becoming increasingly strained. So we've got to look at that. We've got to try to keep tuition as low as possible, but we've also got to be sure we have the resources to provide a high quality education if people are going to come and pay that tuition.