Under the Dome

UNC board members urge technology spending

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

The UNC Board of Governors, gathered Thursday for meetings in Chapel Hill, celebrated the House’s $2.8 billion bond proposal, but some members raised concerns about what’s funded and what’s not.

The House plan includes $900 million for new construction and renovation on the state’s public university campuses.

But board members suggested some “fine tuning” was needed, and some questioned spending so much money on new buildings instead of technology for online learning. A report this year showed that 39 percent of UNC system students took at least one course online and 9 percent were fully online students.

Former board chair Hannah Gage said the state could avoid future costs and better serve more nontraditional students with greater emphasis on technology. “We should invest in technology every single time we invest in bricks and mortar,” she said. “We’re not doing it.”

Board member Champ Mitchell agreed, telling several House members in attendance that online learning is a good deal for the state. He said UNC has about 14,000 online students. “That's a good-sized campus that you didn’t have to build,” he said to House Reps. Mike Hager, Bill Brawley and Jason Saine. The three House members, who attended a meeting of the public affairs committee, expressed support for the UNC system. Brawley called education “the silver bullet for so many of our ills.”

Board Chairman John Fennebresque said the timing of a bond referendum would be key. The worst thing, he said, would be to take it to the state’s voters and lose. “We have to win,” Fennebresque said.