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The Daily Tar Heel

N.C. Community Colleges May Lose Classes, Faculty

Campuses expect record enrollment for the 2002-03 year, but budget cuts could result in heavy layoffs and reduced class offerings.

N.C. fiscal analysts have warned community college officials of possible 4 to 10 percent budget cuts to deal with a projected state budget shortfall that exceeds $1 billion for the 2002-03 fiscal year.

Leaders of the 59-campus system have requested an additional $46.5 million for the 2002-03 fiscal year to cover enrollment growth. The system's total budget for the 2001-02 fiscal year was about $643.7 million.

But the state's budget woes forced Gov. Mike Easley to cut about 3 percent of the community college budget this February, said Audrey Bailey, public information officer of the N.C. Community College System.

In February, Easley announced that the state is facing a $900 million shortfall for the 2001-02 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Bailey said the system is trying not to let the possible budget situation affect the classroom, but that is almost impossible because the majority of the funding goes to students' needs.

Bailey said budget cuts could mean hundreds of employees would be lost and classes would be cut.

She said staff at Central Carolina Community College have decided to go a week without pay to avoid layoffs, if necessary.

System officials are still examining the potential ramifications of the budget cuts, she said.

While there are about 14,000 more incoming students expected to enroll this fall, additional funds for enrollment likely will be low.

"We are experiencing record enrollment," she said.

Bailey said two-thirds of students work full time or are not enrolled for enough hours to receive grants. Because of these hardships, she said the N.C. Community College System is not endorsing tuition increases to compensate for the lost funding.

Tuition rates are set by the N.C. General Assembly. In the last three years, tuition at community colleges has increased by 77 percent to $496 per semester for full-time students.

Bailey said the system might have no choice but to cut funding for vital student needs like classes and faculty. "We have no fat to cut," she said. "We are cutting into the meat and bones."

Karen Kornegay, public information officer at Wake Technical Community College, said if there are drastic budget cuts, officials would reduce the number of classes offered and not renew contracts for part-time employees.

Kornegay said Wake Tech would try to combat the budget crunch by offering more early morning classes. "We have gone from eight classes at 7 a.m. to 80 this year," she said.

Kornegay said she thinks the summer school program would be hit the hardest by the cuts but that she is still not sure about how the campus will be affected. "We won't know anything until the General Assembly's short session is finished," she said.

The session begins May 28.

David Rhew, assistant to the president of community relations for Central Piedmont Community College, said the college is doing studies to determine the impact of budget cuts.

"We are working with the community college office to determine what impact any potential cut would have on the institution," he said.

Rhew said the college is looking for efficient ways to cut costs without drastically affecting students.

Rhew said summer school classes would be the first thing cut if necessary. "We believe cuts to summer terms would be less disruptive to the students."

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The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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