UNC system will lose $414 million from state

The budget reductions are variously applied at system schools, but the 18 percent at UNC-CH is the biggest.

Staff writerJuly 8, 2011 

  • N.C. Central University - 14 percent, $13 million

    N.C. State University - 15.1 percent, $79 million

    UNC-Chapel Hill - 17.9 percent, $101 million

    N.C. School of Science & Math - 8.4 percent, $2 million

    * Dollar figures are rounded

— UNC-Chapel Hill's funding from the state will be reduced by nearly 18 percent - or more than $100 million - making the historic flagship the hardest hit among the UNC system's 17 campuses.

Reductions will be 15 percent, or $79 million, at N.C. State University, and 14 percent, or $13 million, at N.C. Central University. The UNC system as a whole will be cut $414 million in the fiscal year that started July 1.

The allocations were approved Thursday by the UNC Board of Governors' budget and finance committee, acting with the authority of the full board.

The cuts will play out in varying ways at the universities. State funding accounts for just part of the total budgets of UNC system schools. At smaller campuses that don't bring in federal research grants, for example, the state dollars make up a large share of the funding.

At NCSU, state appropriations make up about 42 percent of overall funding. And at UNC-CH, the state money was 22 percent of the campus's $2.4 billion operating budget in 2009-10. UNC-CH has more private fundraising capacity than other campuses and pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research money each year. But the donations and federal dollars are largely earmarked for specific uses and can't be tapped for the operating budget.

UNC President Tom Ross said he was proud of the unity among the chancellors who lead individual campuses. He noted that budget turmoil across U.S. public higher education had led to infighting and fragmentation in other state systems.

"I'll tell you they're not all happy about this, but they all understand it and they're all supportive of it, because they support the system," Ross said. "I think it's going to be hard to cut the amount of money that they're being asked to cut on every campus, but they're going to do it wisely and well, I'm sure."

The budget law enacted by the legislature ordered that the reductions not be made across the board. That could have resulted in a 15.6 percent cut for each campus.

Six criteria

Instead, the system used six criteria to determine how to dole out the pain, taking into account differences among the campuses.

Those criteria included performance measures, such as student retention and graduates produced, and financial factors such as tuition, percentage of low-income students and the availability of other sources of revenue. Also, campuses with fewer than 6,000 students received special consideration because they aren't large enough to operate with economies of scale.

The state cuts range from 17.9 percent at UNC-CH to 8.4 percent at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

Ross said campus job eliminations are under way and that some had occurred earlier in the year to prepare for the certainty of cuts. From January to May, for example, 269 employees were laid off across the system. Open positions were also cut, and the campuses did not renew contracts for many adjunct faculty and other contract employees.

UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp was out of the country Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But last month, in an e-mail message to the campus, he said a proactive cut of almost 5 percent on July 1 will "only marginally ease the pain of this new round of reductions."

How to mitigate losses

"These cuts will undoubtedly hurt our teaching mission, because state appropriations primarily support undergraduate education," he wrote in his message. "And we'll see further cuts to administrative units that have already absorbed significant reductions to protect the classroom experience for our students."

Jan Boxill, chairwoman of UNC-CH's Faculty Council, was surprised that her campus's cut ended up at almost 18 percent. She said the university will have to work to mitigate the effect on the classroom experience.

"There's going to be a lot of pushing and pulling to try to balance out what happens and how we implement these changes," said Boxill, a professor of philosophy. "Clearly it's going to be difficult for all of us, but we certainly want to protect the long-term interests of the university."

Everything will be on the table as individual chancellors deal with the situation, except an additional tuition increase. Some chancellors had said another increase was necessary.

Tuition will not go up

But tuition across the system has increased an average of 39 percent in the past three years. Increases had been enacted in February for the coming academic year, and financial aid packages had been set accordingly. So, another increase would have been disruptive and unfair to parents and students, Ross said. There also is less financial aid available for a larger pool of students. An estimated 6,000 students who previously qualified for financial aid won't this year.

"We just felt it was more important to figure out how to get through this without another tuition increase right now," Ross said.

Students are grateful for that.

Atul Bhula, a graduate student in business at Appalachian State University in Boone, said students may still have to pay more in the long run. Budget cuts will mean larger classes and fewer class offerings, which could slow students' progress toward a degree.

Bhula, who is president of the systemwide Association of Student Governments, said this is occurring in his own family. His brother, an engineering student at UNC Charlotte, was scheduled to graduate in May 2012. Now it appears as though his graduation won't be until December 2012 because he could not get into a class he needed.

"His graduation will be prolonged by a semester, maybe even a year," Bhula said. "That's happening to a lot of people."

Beyond that, students are having to say goodbye to staff and faculty they depended on.

"We're losing all these great people at the university," Bhula said. "These people affect students' lives."

jane.stancill@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4559

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service