Editor’s note: Leaders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Health Care requested the opportunity to respond to our article “UNC Inc.” published Jan. 17.

James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

An article in the Jan. 17 issue of the Independent asserted that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had lost sight of its mission and that our quest for quality was only about the rankings.

It is true that we are always striving to be better, but that has nothing to do with the rankings.

We are driven to be better because we feel obligated to offer the very best education for the people of North Carolina. They deserve nothing less.

And the fact is we are a better university today because of the stalwart efforts and support of the very people the Independent criticized.

This university is even more committed today to affordability and accessibility than when we were founded. We have built a successful financial aid program on the foundation of a model need-based aid programunlike some campuses that place more emphasis on merit-based programs. We are proud of our success in meeting 100 percent of each student’s financial need and of the Carolina Covenant, the nationally recognized program that provides a debt-free education to qualified low-income students.

The Carolina Covenant was a first for a major public university when it was announced in 2003. Eligible students agree to work on campus 10 to 12 hours weekly in a federal work-study job, and the university meets the remaining needs through federal, state, university and other privately funded grants and scholarships. Beginning in fall 2005, the covenant covered students whose families fall at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that is an annual income of about $38,000.

Since we launched the Carolina Covenant, more than two dozen financial aid initiatives for low- to moderate-income students have been started at campuses including Brown, Harvard, MIT and Stanford, as well as Michigan and Virginia. Many of these programs, like Carolina’s, respond to rapidly changing demographics and social needs such as rising high school dropout and poverty rateskey issues facing North Carolina.

The university consistently ranks among the national leaders in making education financially accessible to students. In January, Carolina was named the nation’s best overall value at a public university for the sixth consecutive time by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. UNC has topped the magazine’s list since it began publishing its periodic analysis in 1998.

Kiplinger’s examined data from 500 public four-year colleges and universities to identify the top 100 schools that offer the best “combination of outstanding academic quality plus an affordable price tag.” The magazine’s analysis stresses academic quality first, then ranks each school based on cost and financial aid.

Kiplinger’s story reports, “Tar Heel students pay $13,584 or less and get small classes, a top-notch faculty and a supportive environment that enables 84% of students to earn a degree within six years. That winning formula attracts top students from both in and out of state.”

Now that is a ranking we do care about.