The UNC system on Thursday rolled out financial estimates for the cost of its proposed five-year strategic priorities, which include boosting North Carolina’s degree attainment rate and pushing research areas aimed toward the state’s economic development.
The price tag over a five-year period: nearly $266 million. That’s a 7.5 percent increase by the fifth year compared with this year’s budget.
Not all of that would be new spending, however. About $67 million would come from savings achieved through efficiencies proposed for the UNC campuses. The savings would cover roughly one-quarter of the cost over the five-year spending estimate.
Next week, the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions will review the cost estimates. UNC leaders will also explain the plan to legislative leaders and state budget officials in the coming days.
Here are some highlights:
Total new spending: $199 million by 2017-18, for an average annual increase of 1.5 percent, said Charlie Perusse, the UNC system’s vice president for finance. Perusse said UNC’s goals are focused and aggressive, but its approach to paying for it is conservative. “We’ve been sort of trying to keep our (legislative) expansion requests under 2 percent of the budget, which is what this does,” Perusse said. The request for new spending does not include student enrollment growth, which is already built into the state’s budget. Enrollment growth could cost the state roughly $25 million additionally each year, based on a modest growth projection.
How the money would be spent: A host of initiatives outlined in a 104-page draft of a five-year strategic plan. Among them: $48 million in a “performance fund” to spur greater productivity on campus; $25 million for summer school enrollment, to move students toward degrees more quickly; and almost $28 million in what UNC has called “game-changing” research in advanced manufacturing, data sciences, defense, military and homeland security, energy, marine sciences, and pharmaco-engineering, which marries drug development, biomedical engineering and other technology.
Tightening the university’s belt: The UNC system plan proposes shared services among campuses in administrative functions such as internal auditing, financial aid information review and the process for deciding state residency for students. But system leaders also want to see greater efficiency in the classroom by consolidating academic programs, establishing guidelines for program productivity and pursuing more online instruction.
What about the state’s economy?: North Carolina still has stubbornly high unemployment, and state budget cuts have been a reality for several years. It’s unclear what kind of economic growth the state will see and what the budget picture will look like.
What about student tuition?: The plan calls for UNC to uphold the state’s constitutional mandate for low tuition and fees.
Will the bankers go for it?: For the first time in 140 years, Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the Executive Mansion. It remains to be seen whether the new governor, Pat McCrory, and the legislative leadership, will go for UNC’s request.