CULLOWHEE -- The president of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system talked about the importance of a Nov. 7 vote on higher education bonds during a visit to Western Carolina University on Saturday (Oct. 7), and she heaped praised on WCU for strides the university has made in improving quality in recent years.
Molly Broad, speaking before a group of WCU parents during "Family Weekend" activities, said the statewide bond referendum on $3.1 billion for universities and community colleges is "arguably the single most important event in the life of The University of North Carolina.
"It is these resources that will make it possible for us to serve the rest of your children, and their children, so that North Carolina can continue to be prosperous and improve its economy," Broad said.
Broad is traveling across North Carolina this fall seeking support for the bond package that, if approved, would provide $98.4 million for WCU, allowing the university to modernize antiquated science laboratories, build a 300-bed residence hall, renovate several older classroom buildings, provide space for students in the humanities and fine arts, and begin to prepare for an anticipated enrollment boom.
Broad said the UNC system as a whole has "a backlog of buildings that are decades, and in some cases, centuries old, and we have infrastructure that needs to be completely rehabilitated."
WCU is among the UNC campuses targeted for significant growth over the next eight to 10 years to accommodate an expected influx of 48,000 new students statewide. UNC system officials have projected that Western may see its enrollment expand by some 50 percent (an additional 3,000 students) over the next 10 years or so.
Broad told the parents at WCU that state treasurer Harlan Boyles has said the bond package for higher education would not result in an increase in state taxes. The state's economy "has been in a very, very impressive trajectory" in recent years, and the bond package is vital to maintaining that healthy economy, she said.
Turning to the state of affairs at Western Carolina, Broad said she was glad to visit WCU "and see with my own eyes the kind of progress that I read about in the reports and the papers.
"There is not a campus in this university that has improved more substantially and more rapidly than Western Carolina University, under the leadership of Chancellor John Bardo," Broad said. "For those of you who are parents, and are thinking about the return on your investment in your kids, I want to tell you that we think that what's going on here at Western Carolina is just outstanding."
Broad said an outside consultant, after reviewing the leadership of the chancellor and university trustees, told her during a recent telephone conversation that "It doesn't get any better in higher education than what I saw at Western Carolina University."
In his comments to the parents, Bardo also talked about the importance of the bond package to WCU, saying the university's facilities have been well cared for over the years, but eventually "buildings wear out and they need to be updated."
Bardo said there have been "three seminal events" in Western's history. One of those events was the school's founding by Robert Lee Madison in 1889, and another was when the state university system was established, and Western became one of the institutions of The University of North Carolina, he said.
The upcoming vote on university and community college bonds is the third landmark event in Western Carolina's history, Bardo said.