CHAPEL HILL — The UNC system may eliminate hundreds of jobs next year to help bridge the state's massive budget gap - and campus leaders say they don't expect vacant positions to cushion the blow.
Public universities have put plans together to deal with budget cuts of 5 percent and 10 percent for 2011-12, and data presented Thursday suggest large job losses.
A 10 percent cut could lead to 2,000 job cuts across the UNC system, including 1,000 faculty members, according to data discussed by the UNC system's Board of Governors. A 5 percent cut would eliminate 900 positions, including 400 faculty members. Systemwide, UNC has about 47,000 employees.
The cuts would help the state close a budget gap estimated now at more than $3.5 billion.
Budget cuts have become an annual exercise for the UNC system, which has taken more than $600 million in cuts over the past four years. But campus chancellors had long planned for cuts by holding positions open rather than filling them. Doing so has protected at least some workers from layoffs - until now.
"We have pretty much cleared out those vacant positions," said N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms. "They're pretty much gone. Now we're talking about people."
The projected job losses aren't solid yet. The numbers are fluid, and no campus-by-campus data have yet been presented.
But officials say they expect budget cuts to hit the classroom far harder than they have to this point. Two years ago, then-UNC President Erskine Bowles ordered most of more than 900 job cuts to come from the administrative side of the ledger to protect the university's core academic mission.
A year ago, officials feared deep academic cuts before the legislature allowed campuses to increase tuition to help cover costs.
'A shift' is on the way
This year, cuts to administration won't do the job.
"We're now going to see a shift," said Jeff Davies, the UNC system's chief of staff. "Our administrative ranks are thin."
That makes sense to Nelms, the NCCU chancellor, who said he needs to preserve valuable support service positions on his campus.
"Not all critical positions are teaching positions," he said.
The effect on students would be evident when they try to register for classes. By eliminating hundreds of teaching positions, the UNC system also would lose thousands of course sections.
With a 5 percent cut, 2,750 course sections would be lost; with a 10 percent cut, that number would swell to 6,400, according to the data.
At N.C. State University, Chancellor Randy Woodson said difficult decisions will have to be made.
"Those are dramatic numbers," Woodson said. "We're going to have to protect our core strengths."
Rising college costs
This latest dose of sobering news came during a discussion of college costs, which are expected to rise again as campus leaders fret over the availability of financial aid.
Most public universities are requesting tuition and fee increases for next year. UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, hopes to raise its in-state undergraduate tuition and fees about $560, to $6,839.96. UNC-Charlotte has asked for a $781 tuition and fee increase, to $5,360.
The system's Board of Governors will vote on tuition and fees in February.
As the price of a college education rises, campus officials also say students may not get all the financial aid they need. At many campuses, more students are qualifying for need-based aid - and they need more of it. Aid officers generally cobble financial aid packages together by grouping federal, state and campus grants and loans, and universities vary widely in their ability to provide money to their students.
In fact, only UNC-Chapel Hill, with its Carolina Covenant program, can guarantee a debt-free aid package to needy students, said Julie Rice Mallette, NCSU's director of scholarships and financial aid.
"The sad reality is we just don't have enough money to meet the needs of all students," she said.
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