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INNOVATOR 2005: UNC System

Increasing College Access via a Web PortalUniversity of North Carolina system/
California State University System/
Xap Corp.
Challenge: UNC System
The educational and political leadership of North Carolina realized that a shifting high school population with rapidly growing numbers of underrepresented, first generation, low-income students— combined with significant losses in manufacturing jobs—meant that the state had to increase its college-going rate to provide for a better educated population, in order to attract new business and industry. A one-stop Web portal,, was developed as the cornerstone of a statewide college access initiative that has become a national model.
Technology Choice/Project Design
An advisory group consisting of educators at all levels from across the state recommended that Web technology be utilized as the underpinning of the statewide college access initiative. Telephone technology was also included, providing a toll-free call center to offer comprehensive college planning information to individuals not able to access the Web. (All information is available in English and Spanish.) Since North Carolina had decided on a one-stop location to provide students with information about how to plan, apply, and pay for college, a comprehensive Web portal emerged as the most logical solution. The state had limited financial resources, so finding a comprehensive, one-stop Web portal resource was a challenge. But that challenge was met when Xap Corp’s Mentor System ( entered the picture. By leveraging the state’s resources with grants from the Lumina Foundation ( and GEAR UP (, plus partnering with the state’s loan guarantor, funds for the project were raised.


Kanoy:UNC initiative coordinator (left) and UNC's Dixon: apps way up
Key Players
“The 110 public and private, two- and fouryear colleges and universities in North Carolina are the beneficiaries of our Web portal college-access initiative,” says George R. Dixon, senior consultant with the National College Access Partnership at the University of North Carolina. The governor of North Carolina and his Educational Cabinet (consisting of the presidents of the University of North Carolina system, the North Carolina Community College system, the NC Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the state superintendent of Public Instruction), drove this project. Bobby Kanoy, senior associate VP, who works out of the UNC System office, coordinates the Web portal college access initiative.
Dixon maintains that the evidence is clear that a powerful, robust, user-friendly college- access portal will impact student behavior and, ultimately, college-going patterns for underrepresented, lowincome, first-generation students. Those are the groups benefiting most from information not easily or conveniently obtained previously. According to Dixon, was deployed in the fall of 1999 and has already seen incredible success. Over 800,000 student accounts have been created to date. The Web portal has 5,300- plus authenticated student visitors daily, staying an average of 16 minutes per visit. Thus far, over 225,000 admission applications have been submitted via The college-going rate in North Carolina has risen from 57 to 65 percent in just five years.
“The most pleasant surprise was how readily the entire educational community in North Carolina K-12, public and private, two- and four-year institutions and rallied around the college access focus and pulled together to help students better prepare for and a postsecondary experience,” says Dixon. “Gaining buy-in from the top, and including all engaged educational partners, is the key to success.”
Next Steps
Continuing to improve the portal’s career/ academic/financial planning services is a priority, as well as moving all North Carolina institutions to exclusive users of the application because of the ease to students. Currently, about 90 percent of all 110 North Carolina institutions of higher ed use the CFNC application exclusively (the other 10 percent use it in addition to their own). All apps are customized to each campus.
Dixon says: Identify a highly placed educational administrator as “champion” for your state’s college access initiative; get early buyin from all interested parties, particularly from admissions directors and school counselors.