Mission Statements of North Carolina’s Higher Ed

I grew up in North Carolina, I got my bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University, and I think there’s a decent chance I’ll ultimately move back to pursue a career as a professor. With this in mind, I’m revisiting some of my thoughts and opinions about the different schools I grew up around that I may one day be applying to.

For starters, how do these schools describe themselves? Let’s take a look at some mission statements of a few schools scattered throughout NC.

North Carolina State University (NCSU)

As a research-extensive land-grant university, North Carolina State University is dedicated to excellent teaching, the creation and application of knowledge, and engagement with public and private partners. By uniting our strength in science and technology with a commitment to excellence in a comprehensive range of disciplines, NC State promotes an integrated approach to problem solving that transforms lives and provides leadership for social, economic, and technological development across North Carolina and around the world.

The first thing that jumps out to me is that the very first thing NCSU mentions, the thing that they use to qualify their identity as a land grant, is that their extensive research. They then go on to describe the three missions of teaching, research, and extension that I’m quite familiar with, but the focus on shiny research is telling, and familiar.

By mentioning that their strength is in science and technology and that they are “committ[ed] to excellence” in every other discipline (lumped unceremoniously together, I might add), this statement also seems to be implying that the writers don’t believe the institution is currently strong or excellent in any non-STEM discipline. Maybe this has some truth to it in terms of research, but many of the most excellent teachers I had at NCSU were in the English department, and I’d imagine many of them would disagree.

The rest of it seems pretty bog standard and I can’t say I’m particularly inspired by it. As someone who’s proud to have graduated from NCSU, this doesn’t cover any of the things about the school that were most impactful to me–not the diversity of the campus, not the high-quality humanities instruction, and not a word about the sense of community or access to amazing extracurricular programs.

It’s like the school administration has no idea what’s making it so great! Admittedly, this statement appears to be unchanged since 2011. Perhaps we’ll have to take the rest of these with a grain of salt, as we’re moving on.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T)

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University advances knowledge through scholarly exchange and transforms society with exceptional teaching, learning, discovery and community engagement. An 1890 land-grant doctoral research institution with a distinction in STEM and commitment to excellence in all disciplines, North Carolina A&T creates innovative solutions that address the challenges and economic needs of North Carolina, the nation and the world.

I was curious to see what the differences would be between NCSU and the state’s other land grand university. NC A&T is also a historically black university, and one I considered when I was sending out applications, as it was one of two schools in the state with a Food Science program.

In my opinion, this is a better mission statement. It seems less ashamed of its land grant status, and doesn’t minimize the importance of teaching, the thing that is the lifeblood of all universities whether they’re proud of it or not.

One other interesting difference is that NC A&T’s statement highlights that they were a part of the 1890 land grant program. This is, essentially, naming themselves as a historically black university, which is a difference from the 1862 grant which founded NCSU. I’m glad that they’re proud of this! It has me wondering, though, how many people reading this statement will understand the significance of those numbers, as it’s something I learned relatively recently.

Other than that, the statements are extremely similar. The sentences about distinction in STEM and the commitment to everything else might as well be identical, as well as the final sentences. As the schools do both partially report to the same overseeing board of governors, this probably shouldn’t be particularly surprising. It is interesting to see, though, that the schools, which have very similar programs and serve overlapping populations, aren’t trying harder to distinguish themselves from each other.

Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech)

Wake Technical Community College provides equitable access to education that transforms lives through economic mobility and personal fulfillment.

In pursuit of its mission, the college adheres to an open-door admissions policy by offering quality, accessible, and affordable education opportunities to all adults regardless of age, sex, socioeconomic status, ethnic origin, race, religion, or disability. To meet the needs of the citizens of Wake County, the college focuses on providing support services, resources, community outreach, and partnerships; programs in basic skills development; vocational, technical, and occupational training; and college/university transfer preparation.

To round out this particular investigation of mission statements, I thought I would finish up with one from a very different school: the community college in the same town as NCSU, near where I grew up.

This statement is very different. It reads more like Title VII than the research/teaching/extension template the other two are following. It would be a little weird if it did, though, because Wake Tech is just a teaching institution, and they serve a pretty different population than even A&T. No one is getting a 4-year degree from Wake Tech, or doing research, so they have a much more focused mission and that allows them to call out some of their specific programs and initiatives in the mission statement.

I find it very interesting that, while the other universities mention service and economic development in the local communities (mostly near the end), the way that Wake Tech conceptualizes its service is much more central and even more local. Instead of talking about service to an outside community through extension or other programs, the way Wake Tech seeks to better the world is by teaching the students that attend it, to increase their “economic mobility”. I think this is a wonderful and important service, but it has me thinking. Who are these different statements framing as the populations that have knowledge, and who are they framing as the populations that are in need of that knowledge? Is this just based off of the benefits that the different institutions think they have the capacity to provide, or does it say something about the way they see their students?

I’m also slightly disappointed that this statement uses the oft-seen “regardless of” language when defining equitable access rather than explicitly prioritizing the needs of under-served populations.

To summarize, within this small sample, the land grant institutions’ missions are highly tied to the general mission of land grants–teaching, research, and extension–while the community college is, understandably, much more focused on teaching and equity. These schools also, so far as we can extrapolate from these statements, see themselves in slightly different positions relative to the communities they inhabit.

3 comments:

  1. I don’t blame you for wanting to move back to North Carolina, it really is a wonderful state. About the mission statements: I could see where you inferred from NC State’s mission statement that they kind of downplayed non-STEM or research based programs. However, in my opinion, I just think they were highlighting their strengths. Just like Virginia Tech for example, a large percentage of people immediately think of engineering when it comes to Virginia Tech. However, we know that VT has a wide variety of wonderful and very important programs in addition to engineering. Still, if NC State’s primary strengths are research and innovation, I think they did right by focusing on those two aspects in their mission statement. Conclusively, I think you did a great job of pointing out important parts of each school’s mission statement and elaborating upon interesting points.

  2. I too would not have known the distinction between the two land-grant university dates. It’s great that NC A&T is so proud of where they came from! It’s interesting that both of the NC state schools have an emphasis on STEM, technical studies, etc. whereas the community college stresses accessibility to students of various backgrounds. Their mission statement seems to have an emphasis on preparation for the future in a way that the other two don’t convey.

  3. As someone involved in agriculture, I have a passion for land-grant institutions and what they stand for. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your commentary on these two university’s mission statements. I agree that it is interesting that NCState identifies STEM but then lumps in all other disciplines. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come off that they are lacking or embarrassed about their other ventures, instead I think it was meant to highlight in particular what they consider a strength. As far as NC A&T, thank you for pointing out the date and what that distinction means. I think this university is proud of their status and I think it’s great that they mention it here. While both are land-grant institutions, it’s really interesting to not the differences between the two and their different focuses.

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