Education

UNC budget cut under state plan, but community college employees will get raises

The state budget plan would force UNC campuses to cut $18 million this year, while paying for enrollment growth and providing new money to stabilize the struggling Elizabeth City State University and the medical school at East Carolina University.

Meanwhile, the legislature addressed all of the N.C. Community College System’s priorities — providing a pool of money for employee raises and dedicating money to cover students in summer courses. The budget would allocate $10 million this year and $20 million next year for community college pay raises, to be given at the discretion of individual college presidents. Employees would get the same $750 bonus as other state employees, but some would see raises, too.

“I’m just well pleased with the outcome, not just the monetary outcome,” said George Fouts, interim president at the community college system, later adding, “I’m just really gratified that they recognized our value and our success.”

The university’s cuts were much less severe than those during the depths of the recession. They would be softened by an increase in enrollment – 1.7 percent more students this year, and an accompanying $49 million from the state.

Overall, the UNC system’s state-funded budget would reach $2.7 billion – an increase of $99 million.

Elizabeth City State would see $3 million this year to enhance technology and help recruit at the campus, which has experienced steep enrollment declines. ECU’s medical school would get $8 million to stabilize its budget after falling revenue.

Most UNC campuses would not be allowed to use more than $1 million in state funds each year for fundraising functions, which could be a blow to some of the smaller campuses. Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, UNC School of the Arts, Western Carolina and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics would be exempt from the cap.

And the budget opens the door to an online competitor for UNC, by giving a $2 million challenge grant to Western Governors University, if the online school can raise $5 million in private money to establish a campus in North Carolina.

One UNC program had its state funding eliminated altogether. The plan would cut $737,230 in funding to UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hunt Institute, which provides policy makers with data on public education. It is named for former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat.

The UNC Board of Governors had already acted to set UNC tuition. But the budget plan would increase community college tuition in the spring from $72 to $76 per credit hour. Annual tuition would rise $128 to $2,432 for community college students.

The community college system won a victory in getting state funding to cover students who take curriculum courses in the summer. Fully funded summer courses have long been a priority for the system, which will get $17 million next year for about 3,500 students who took summer courses this year.

The budget also pushes more remedial work and community college counseling into high schools. It would establish an NC Works Career Coach Program, which would place community college career coaches in high schools. The funding for it, at $500,000, is enough for some pilot programs around the state, but Fouts said he hoped to see it expand eventually to many counties.

The budget directs the system to develop a program of remedial math and reading for some high school students to take before they graduate, to get them ready for college courses. The program would be taught by high school teachers trained for the task.

In 2014-15, the community college system’s total budget was about $1.8 billion, with 57 percent coming from state appropriations. The rest came primarily from tuition and fees and county funds.

The community college system’s student population declined by 2.1 percent, resulting in $6 million budget adjustment this year. Overall, community college funding is set to rise by $20 million, when taking into account other increases in the budget bill.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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