A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education pronounced there are “2 North Carolinas,” one bursting with innovation and economic vitality and the other mired in a sea of rural problems so overwhelming that this portion of the Old North State is a virtual “roll call of devastation.” Indeed economic, public health, and other indices paint a gloomy portrait, particularly of Southeastern North Carolina.
Looking deeper, the same model that transformed Raleigh-Chapel Hill-Durham and Charlotte, is poised to remake this region. Public-private partnerships like the Research Triangle, backed by strong, well-funded universities made those areas of the state economic magnets that drew banking, medicine, technology, and other anchor tenants. Roughly 300 people move to the state every day for the quality of life, education, economic possibilities, and, of course, for the barbeque and college basketball.
The primary service area of UNC Pembroke does have challenges: food insecurity, obesity, diabetes, crime, and educational achievement statistics place Southeastern North Carolina on the wrong end of the scoreboard. But the critical ingredient of economic change is in place: The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. A 2012-2013 study indicated that UNC Pembroke created nearly $400 million in additional state income because of its role in developing market-ready talent. More to the point, every dollar invested in UNC Pembroke brought a ten-fold return. UNC Pembroke is an economic and intellectual engine that can drive so much positive change in our region.
With nearly 25 percent of current students enrolled in STEM or health programs, UNC Pembroke graduates are filling important roles in medicine, computer science, information technology, and across the sciences. Strong accredited programs across the university — business, education, nursing, and social work to name just a few — turn out market-ready students every year eager to apply their practical skills in the workplace. Select partnership programs help UNC Pembroke students to become engineers, veterinarians, medical doctors, and other professionals. Accomplished faculty engage in research across multiple disciplines and the list of UNC Pembroke scholars who are regionally, nationally, and internationally recognized is growing every year.
If your idea of UNC Pembroke is a commuter school tucked in an isolated part of the state, give us a second look. While we still serve commuters, second-career and non-traditional folks, the majority of our students live on or immediately adjacent to campus, and our range of arts, humanities, athletic, intellectual, and cultural events make us a place to visit. We’re also the most diverse university in the South — meaning our digitally-literate students graduate ready to teach, support, engage, collaborate, and serve every element of the global 21st century economy. Got an idea for a new product? Check out our entrepreneurship incubator. Need some expertise on a technical problem or a municipal concern? Give us a call. You’ll be surprised to learn the depth of problem solving, critical thinking, and insight our faculty and students can bring to bear.
Next year, a program called NC Promise will dramatically reduce the cost of tuition at UNC Pembroke to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for non-North Carolinians, with the state making an additional investment in the institution to make up the difference. This opportunity will help the university grow significantly. Many of the new students will check us out for the affordability, but commit to a UNC Pembroke education when they learn about the quality of our degree programs, service learning opportunities, and vibrant campus life. The growth of UNC Pembroke will pay immediate dividends to this part of the state.
With two major interstates, a growing service economy, and a university poised for greatness, the future of Southeastern North Carolina is bright. Get on board, this rocket is about to launch.
Dr. Jeff Frederick is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.