State budget decisions to have reaching effects on UNC

As the state budget showdown draws to a close in Raleigh, UNC-system administrators are bracing for tough decisions in the months ahead.

The system released numbers detailing the impact of the state legislature’s budget proposal at last week’s Board of Governors meeting. The proposal would reduce state funding for UNC-system schools by 14.6 percent or $407 million, including a cut of $35 million for the system’s need-based financial aid program.

But the actual effects of the cut on individual campuses will be implemented by chancellors and provosts. System President Thomas Ross previously asked chancellors to prepare for a cut as high as 15 percent.

Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State University, said the cut will likely be 14 to 15 percent for the campuses with the most resources in the system — N.C. State and UNC. Such a substantial reduction in funding will inevitably affect the academic mission of universities, he said.

“We’ve done a lot administratively, as they’ve done in Chapel Hill, to try to be efficient,” he said.

Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost at UNC, said in an email that he has already been planning for a worst-case funding scenario, and will notify schools and departments of the details of the cuts in July.

“My task is how to minimize the impact of the cuts,” he said. “When I see the final budget in July, final decisions will be made.”

Woodson said course sections at N.C. State will have to be reduced after the elimination of about 140 to 150 faculty positions. And chancellors likely won’t be able to rely on the crutch of supplemental tuition increases to offset the cuts in state funding.

The board approved supplemental increases for all system schools last year. Tuition for both N.C. State and UNC students increased by $750, the maximum amount allowed in last year’s state budget.

Ross said system lobbyists worked closely with legislators this summer to retain flexibility for implementing cuts and tuition increases across the system. He advised against further tuition hikes at the meeting in addition to average increases of $208 for undergraduate residents and $650 for nonresidents already approved by the board this year.

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said he understands Ross’ decision to avoid additional tuition increases after detailed meetings with the president.

“If that holds, then we’re happy for our students,” he said.
But students across the system might begin to feel the tangible effects of years of funding cuts as it takes longer to graduate with less financial aid funding available.

Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, said cuts totaling more than $1 billion during the last five years have begun to take a toll on the system.

“What this board has to do now… relates to the cumulative effect of four years of cuts because it is about the total effect, and I don’t think that we can take a fifth year,” she said.

The board will meet again in August after the budget is finalized to begin apportioning the latest round of cuts across the system. Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the budget bill is likely to be overridden by both the N.C. House and Senate, prompting the legislators’ proposed budget to become law.

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