WHEN CAROL L. FOLT became Carolina’s 11th Chancellor, and 29th in the lineage of leaders that date back to Carolina’s founding, she said: “As America’s first public university, Carolina became the gold standard. The founders passed the baton, and the future is up to us. How can we fulfill this honorable charge in a way that is ever fresh and relevant?”
Folt – an internationally recognized life scientist, award-winning teacher and accomplished academic leader – has worked to fulfill that honorable charge by placing Carolina’s students at the center, advancing the university’s academic excellence, championing Carolina as a leading global public research university and focusing on innovation through the development of new avenues for entrepreneurship that are translating world-class ideas into real-world applications.
Carolina, which routinely ranks among the nation’s top public universities and is noted as one of the best values in college education, welcomed its largest and most academically accomplished class this past fall. Once again selected from a record pool of applicants, 17 percent of the Class of 2020 are the first in their family to attend a four-year institution of higher education, and the number of active duty and veterans of military service on campus is the highest since World War II. Carolina is one of the nation’s top ten research universities and ranks 8th in the nation for federal research funding. In the last couple of years, the university has reached nearly $1 billion in annual research expenditures.
Under the chancellor’s leadership, Carolina also has continued to improve on the school’s winning track record of undergraduate diversity, retention and graduation rates – particularly for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students – while moving forward with additional emphasis on Carolina’s historic commitment to ensuring affordability together with accessibility and excellence. Carolina is one of the few public universities that remains both need-blind and covers the full financial need of its students. Carolina is the least expensive of 14 peer public universities and debt-per-student, just over half of the U.S. average, has remained nearly flat in inflation-adjusted dollars for more than a decade.
As leader of North Carolina’s flagship public university, Folt and her leadership team champion attracting, developing and retaining world-class faculty that are focused on excellence in teaching and research. Carolina’s faculty lead by doing, and each day they share their knowledge and excitement with the next generation who will face a rapidly evolving future as they embark upon impactful careers, many in fields that don’t exist today. Carolina is committed to benefiting its local and state communities and to cultivating the global outlook of its students, with more than a third of Carolina undergraduate students studying abroad – one of highest rates among public universities.
Folt believes a key mission of the chancellor is to share broadly stories about student and faculty excellence, demonstrating Carolina’s value to the state and commitment to the future. An enthusiastic presence in classrooms and at campus events and athletic competitions, Folt brings students and faculty to every meeting of Carolina’s Board of Trustees to discuss ground-breaking research and academic accomplishments and initiated significant investments in the communications team to tell stories to new audiences across the state, nation and world.
Folt came to Carolina from Dartmouth College, where she was interim president in 2012-2013 and served as a faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences and academic leader. As a widely respected scientist, Folt and her students’ pioneering work on the effects of dietary mercury and arsenic on human and ecosystem health led to numerous changes in national and global policy and consumption advisories around the world. Folt graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, earning both a bachelor’s degree in aquatic biology and a master’s degree in biology. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Davis and undertook a postdoctoral fellowship at Michigan State University before joining the faculty at Dartmouth.
When asked about the future, Folt said that while so much has been accomplished at the nation’s first public university, the best is yet to come. She then smiled, and said, “I know this because I witness it on campus every day. The future is studying in our classrooms, working in our labs and serving our communities right now. I couldn’t be more proud and optimistic.”