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Looming budget cuts focus of BOG

Look at downsizing class o?erings, enrollmen

The threat of a federal government shutdown was a popular topic of conversation at the UNC-system Board of Governors’ Thursday meeting.

UNC General Administration officials assured members that a federal shutdown would have little short-term impact on universities, and N.C. Treasurer Janet Cowell said a state government shutdown was improbable.

But some chancellors said the system might be heading for its own catastrophe if cuts of 15 percent — or higher — are approved by the state legislature.

“The kind of numbers we’re hearing now are scary,” said N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We just can’t keep doing this every year.”

‘Do not panic’

In the last three years, the system has cut a total of $575 million, 23 percent in expenses and nearly 900 administrative positions.

N.C. legislators are facing a $2.4 billion shortfall in the state budget, and speculations about cuts to the UNC system are running the gamut — from 5 percent to UNC-system President Thomas Ross’ estimate of 30 percent — as the higher education appropriations subcommittee prepares to release its budget proposal early next week.

“The message I keep hearing over and over again is, ‘do not panic,’” Ross said during the meeting. “There may be time for panic later.”

Can’t protect the classroom

If 15 percent cuts hit the UNC system, universities will collectively eliminate approximately 1,500 faculty positions.

Western Carolina University would eliminate 63 positions, 11 percent of its total faculty.

The decrease in faculty members would force WCU to offer about 147 fewer courses per semester.

With the 15 percent cut, course section offerings would decrease by about 9,000 throughout the system.

UNC-Greensboro absorbed 100 percent of its permanent budget cut last year in administrative and staff positions, Chancellor Linda Brady said.

“We have managed to protect the classroom, but in 2011-12, we simply can’t do that,” she said.

The university is planning to implement 66 percent of its cuts in academic affairs, which includes faculty positions as well as advising, admissions and financial aid staff, Brady said.

“We’re running out of places to cut,” she said. “We may very well have to slow our enrollment growth,” she said.

Restricting enrollment

Reduced faculty and course offerings could limit universities’ capacity to continue educating the same number of students.

Ross said he doesn’t want to restrict enrollment because it would send a message to students preparing for college that there might not be room for them at a UNC-system school.

“Depending on what the level of the cut is, we may have to look at that,” Ross said. “Everything has to be on the table.”

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An unpopular alternative

Other public universities — such as the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia — have adapted to decreased state funding by adopting high-tuition models, which enroll more out-of-state students, to bring in revenue and offset cuts.

But board members said they do not want to switch to a high-tuition model although tuition rates have been escalating in recent years.

Board member Charles Mercer said in-state graduates who return to their communities benefit their society.

Franklin McCain, another board member, said he does not want the system to turn away in-state students in favor of out-of-state students.

“That’s the last thing I want to happen,” he said.

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