Margaret Spellings, the former secretary of education and current president of the UNC system, says after two years on the job there is still more work to be done to lower the cost of a UNC education and she needs the legislature's help to keep the momentum going.
Spellings, who joined WFAE's Charlotte Talks Monday morning, said the UNC system and a college degree can be a key factor to get people out of poverty in the Tar Heel state. She notes this is particularly important in Charlotte after the Queen City was ranked as one of the least economically mobile places in the country. If you’re born poor in Charlotte, you have little chance of getting out of poverty. Spellings said a program that is starting this fall will make in-state tuition $500 dollars at UNC Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University and Western Carolina University. That program will make getting a degree more affordable.
The key to maintaining that is continued funding from lawmakers.
“The legislature is backfilling the amount from what it would normally have cost to attend those institutions,” Spellings said. “To buy down the cost to this $500 level. That is going to cost the great state of North Carolina and the taxpayers therein $51 million a year.”
Spellings also talked about a plan she and the chancellor of UNC Charlotte have reached to try and increase rural enrollment and close the achievement gap while also raising research funds. The research institution has a great computer technology program but Spellings said the university system doesn’t do a great job of spreading the word.
Spellings expressed sympathy for current education secretary Betsy DeVos. She said she knows the secretary and believes DeVos has good intentions. As secretary of education between 2005 and 2009 under President George W. Bush, she doesn’t buy into the notion that DeVos wants to move kids out of public schools and into charter and private institutions, all while leaving only the poorest kids behind.
“The vast, vast majority of students are going to attend our public schools,” Spellings said. “And we best make them work, or we are not going to live in a very wonderful country, the global innovator, and those students are not going to have very bright prospects. So our public schools have to thrive.”
Spellings acknowledged that DeVos doesn’t have as much experience working for the government as her predecessors, but believes she can learn on the job.