The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 27th

State enrollment funding model could be altered

Despite proposed changes to the way universities fund enrollment growth, UNC-system administrators say increasing enrollment may no longer be an option because of state funding cuts.

Bills in both the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate would require the system’s Board of Governors to amend the enrollment funding model used by campuses and implement a new one by 2012. The current model projects the number of credit hours taken by students each year.

By the Numbers
  • 15 schools with errors in 08-09
  • 2 errors of more than 10 percent
  • $46.8 million enrollment funds for 2011-12
  • 2,337 expected increase in students

The model has been scrutinized because of errors in the projection of student credit hours at individual campuses. N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University has overestimated student credit hours by more than 10 percent in the past.

But efforts to improve the accuracy of enrollment funding have coincided with a tough economic period for the state. Legislators have sought to cut spending rather than raise taxes to close a state budget shortfall of $2.4 billion.

Though the proposed state budget fully funds enrollment growth for universities, it includes a cut of $407 million in operational and financial aid funding for the system.

Phil Dixon, a member of the board, said cuts to financial aid might force universities to begin placing limits or caps on the number of students admitted.

“Even if we are allowed to grow, if we don’t get money for financial aid they can be cut off by virtue of the economics,” he said.

Dixon said the board has focused on linking enrollment growth funding to the performance of universities in terms of graduating admitted students. Campuses have already been given incentives to improve graduation rates, he said.

A report by the Program Evaluation Division, a non-partisan unit of the N.C. General Assembly, also recommended performance-based enrollment funding.

Michelle Beck, the lead evaluator of the report, said graduation and retention measurements would need to be phased in throughout the next few academic years to track the progress of students.

She said it’s important to only appropriate funds to universities that retain and graduate the students they admit each year.

“Simplifying the formula and adding performance measures adds a degree of accountability and makes sure public funds are used properly,” she said.

For one of the bills that would amend enrollment funding to become law, it must pass one chamber before today’s crossover deadline for a vote in the other body.

But it remains unclear how performance-based enrollment funding would be implemented. Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, said the board will discuss the legislation for the first time at today’s meeting.

“I believe strongly that a campus that’s not graduating students at an acceptable rate should not be allowed to grow,” she said.

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