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NC Senate proposes smaller cuts to UNC system

As the N.C. Senate prepares its version of the state budget, UNC-system administrators are hoping legislators will provide some relief for universities that would bear the brunt of education cuts.

The Senate Appropriations on Education Committee met for the first time Tuesday to review the House’s budget — which was passed last week — and discuss alternative funding targets in efforts to close a state budget shortfall of $2.4 billion.

The Republican leadership on the committee has set a target for roughly proportional cuts to education across-the-board, including a 12.5 percent cut of $360 million in state funding for the UNC system’s 17 institutions.

The committee’s target for funding cuts to the UNC system represents a significant decrease from the House budget, which would reduce operational and financial aid funding for universities by 17.4 percent, or $483 million.

The UNC system has not yet released projections for what a 12.5 percent cut would entail for universities.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, a member of the committee, said senators are committed to restoring funding to some education areas, such as the UNC system, to balance the distribution of cuts.

“We’re ready to help, wherever we need to, the core functions of the government — education being one of them,” Rucho said.

The House budget would cut less funding from public schools — 8.8 percent — to offset the higher cut for the UNC system. Representatives have previously said the system should shoulder the burden of the cuts because it has more resources at its disposal, such as tuition and endowments.

Stephen McFarland, vice provost for academic affairs at UNC-Wilmington, said system schools will benefit from a more proportional share of education cuts from the state legislature.

“We don’t want to hold ourselves out there as so unique and special that we can’t feel some pain,” he said. “But we don’t want to bear a load that’s disproportional.”

McFarland said any double-digit cut in state funding would be devastating for universities, resulting in more teacher layoffs, fewer course sections and longer periods for students to graduate.

UNC-W would be forced to eliminate 78 faculty positions and increase class sizes to an average of 37 students with a 15 percent cut, he said.

Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost at UNC, said tuition increases might be the only means of preserving the core academic mission of universities.

Republican legislators say they hope to have the budget completed by June 1, which could include a provision for supplemental tuition increases. The UNC-system’s Board of Governors has already proposed hikes averaging $208 for undergraduate residents and $650 for nonresidents.

Carney said UNC students must put the cost of a quality education into perspective.

“They’re paying less than almost every other institution of comparable quality,” he said.

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