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UNC-system enrollment growth funding plan may be hindered by budget cuts

Would reward higher grad rates


UNC-system administrators planned to implement a new funding model this year to create an incentive for campuses to improve graduation and retention rates.

They wanted to reward universities with additional funds based on their performance rather than increase in enrollment — the current basis for receiving those funds.

But the plan might not work out because schools in the system do not think the state will be able to afford this additional funding, also known as enrollment growth funding, due to the state budget shortfall.

Enrollment growth funding has been used to accommodate additional costs associated with expanding universities, such as additional supplies and faculty. This funding has also helped schools offset state budget cuts.

In the past, enrollment growth funding was based on the number of credit hours universities added each year.

The proposed funding model would appropriate funding based on how well system schools’ graduation and retention rates compare with that of their peers — like that of UNC-CH with that of University of Virginia.

“It was certainly a shift from looking at enrollment growth in numbers only to looking at the end result,” said UNC-system spokeswoman Joni Worthington.

The UNC-system Board of Governors has been slowing enrollment growth recently, she said. Previously, the system focused more heavily on students paying tuition than on students succeeding.

The policy is designed to refocus the universities, prohibiting growth unless they meet certain criteria for graduation and retention.

“The state would like to see that the students it’s paying for are, in fact, graduating,” said Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost at UNC-CH.

The policy change wouldn’t hurt UNC-CH. In fact, if it’s fully implemented, it would benefit the University, he said.

“Even compared to our peer group, we’re doing very well,” he said.

But the N.C. General Assembly is considering freezing enrollment growth funding overall, a move that could cripple several UNC-system institutions, Carney said. One budget draft proposal offers only half the enrollment growth funding requested by the system.

“It used to offset a lot of cuts we’ve seen,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to handle this. I’m very worried about the future.”

If the new policy is implemented, many schools could benefit from the changes.

N.C. State University’s enrollment has levelled out recently, but its graduation rates have been steadily rising since 2004, said Trey Standish, assistant director for enrollment planning at NCSU.

East Carolina University has also been refocusing on its graduation and retention rates, when previously its priority was just enrollment, said John Fletcher, associate provost for enrollment services at ECU.

“It’s just a small carrot that’s supplied in addition to the stick that can prohibit the increase in size,” said Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNC-Charlotte. “Without the enrollment funding, it’s hard to increase in size.”

With the new policy, growth will be attributed to better student performance, Carney said. But that growth requires additional faculty and equipment, which are becoming harder to obtain for fiscally stressed institutions in the system.

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