In his first year as chancellor of University of North Carolina Wilmington, Jose Sartarelli led the development of a fiveyear strategic plan for the school. Three years later, he says that UNCW has made significant progress on most of his top five goals.
The 2016-21 plan was created with an eye to ensuring the quality of education the university offers and to increasing the scope and impact of its role in the region.
“I used to work for three global companies,” said Sartarelli, who came to UNCW in July 2015 for the chancellorship after serving as chief global officer and dean of the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.
Prior to his career in higher education, Sartarelli spent decades in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I learned that to increase sales and not make money is easy. To increase sales and make money is hard,” he said about his time in the private sector. “Applying that to the university, to grow and lower quality is easy. To grow and increase quality is hard. We love that challenge: to improve on both counts.”
Current data estimates UNCW’s impact on the tri-county area’s economy is more than $1 billion. And at about 2,300 employees, the university is the area’s fifth-largest employer.
That is a huge impact, Sartarelli says, and makes the university’s strategic plan and assessment of progress critical to the school as well as to the communities it serves.
“I feel really good about the fiveyear strategic plan, about where we are now,” Sartarelli said.
He ticked off the list of goals he outlined in 2015, at the outset of the planning process, giving an update on several of those focuses.
Enrollment and recruitment targets have been met, according to the chancellor.
“We have gone from 14,590 to about 17,000 students and have increased the number of freshmen, international students, transfer students and military students,” he said.
More of those students are returning year after year. As of late June, 88% of UNCW students planned to return to campus in the fall. Historically colleges see some melt over the summer as some students’ situations change. Sartarelli estimates that UNCW’s retention rate come fall semester will be about 85%, the same rate for the past three years.
Most students, however, do graduate. UNCW boasts a six-year graduation rate of 73% and a four-year rate of about 58% – the second-best rate among North Carolina colleges, according to Sartarelli.
Growth is not limited to undergraduates: The chancellor reported that the number of graduate students grew 16% last academic year and is likely to grow another 15% in the coming year.
Another of Sartarelli’s goals for UNCW, reflected in the strategic plan, was to improve job prospects for graduates.
“We’re bringing in more companies to recruit,” he said. “In [academic year] 2014-15 we had 19 Fortune 500 companies. This year, we had 79. We’ve made major progress in students getting jobs and getting into quality graduate schools.”
When he took over the reins at UNCW, Sartarelli made it clear he wanted to expand educational options through new undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
“We’ve added about 17 new programs since 2015, leading to 700 new students,” he said. “We have two new Ph.D. programs and a master’s in business analytics.”
When Sartarelli arrived at UNCW, the university offered a Ph.D. in marine biology. Doctoral programs have expanded to include a Ph.D. in psychology and a doctorate in nursing practice. He would like to add more programs that make sense given UNCW’s mission and location.
Future new programs should be directed at the needs of the Southeast, he said.
“This is a very large health sciences region,” the chancellor noted. “We have 30 CROs – including Alcami, Quality Chemical, PPD – and a large medical center. We are cultivating and providing employees for [that sector]. We have the largest nursing program in the state. Today we have 2,500 students and growing. It’s the eighth-largest in the country.”
Growth in allied health programs is one reason why UNCW is working on a $66 million building on its campus funded through the ConnectNC bond. Veterans Hall will be the base for existing health and human services degree programs and give space for potential new programs, including in health care administration and analytics, speech language pathology and physician assistant studies, officials have said.
Wilmington’s growing financial technology community also has looked to UNCW, in part, to provide the employees it needs. Computer science and information technology programs have helped prepare undergraduates and master’s level students for careers in this industry.
“Wilmington’s fintech industry has over 1,000 employees; 300 of them come from us,” Sartarelli said. “We also just graduated 62 students from our master of accountancy program.”
Pulling in Dollars
One goal the university is still working to achieve is to increase its amount of research.
“We’ve made progress but we still don’t have enough research,” Sartarelli said. “We have $12 million in sponsored research and $17-18 million in total research – not as much as I want. My original goal was $30 million.”
The university has seen major gains in fundraising – another strategic plan goal – in recent years. According to figures supplied by UNCW’s Office of University Advancement, gifts, pledges and planned gifts in the first five months of the 2018-19 fiscal year totaled almost $14 million, over $2 million more than in the entire 2014-15 fiscal year.
Two major gifts have provided important resources. The first, in May 2017, was a $5 million gift from Quality Chemical Laboratories and became the school’s largest corporate gift in its history. The commitment from Quality Chemical CEO and former UNCW chemistry professor Yousry Sayed and his wife, Linda, is being used to support development of new programs related to chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences.
Then, in December 2018, alumnus and former Old Dominion Freight Line CEO David Congdon and his wife, Helen, made a $10 million commitment, the largest outright gift commitment in the university’s history. It will establish the David S. Congdon School of Supply chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems within the Cameron School of Business.
Gifts like these can encourage others to give, said Eddie Stuart, UNCW’s vice chancellor for university advancement.
The university saw a 19% increase in the number of alumni donors between FY 2014-15 and FY 2017-18. In 2018 it was recognized by CASE, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, for its overall improvement in fundraising.
At the end of FY 2017-18 the university’s endowment was valued at $98 million.
A major capital campaign is taking shape under the leadership of Stuart and Sartarelli, who are currently laying the foundation for what they term UNCW’s “largest comprehensive campaign.”
Even as UNCW works to achieve the goals laid out in its 2016-21 strategic plan, the chancellor is looking ahead to goals for the following five years.
Sartarelli says the 2021-26 plan will include a focus on engineering and a move from a master’s degree- granting institution to a doctoral institution. UNCW will launch its first undergraduate engineering program, a major in coastal engineering, this fall.
“The way I see it, for the next 10 to 15 years it will be important to cultivate and develop all types of engineering programs and at the same time do more research,” he said. “It will be good for the region.
“We plan to have 25,000 to 30,000 students in 15 years and be a fully doctoral institution. In 2050 this area will probably have 700,000 to 800,000 people. The university will keep growing,” he said. “I want to make sure by the time I leave it is growing with the best-quality faculty and students and with degrees that are relevant to the area. We want to do clinical research that contributes to the greater good, as well as arts and sciences, performing arts and athletics.
“It’s a very important role we play, and we have been responding to the needs of the marketplace very well.”