When the UNC Board of Governors meets Thursday and Friday in Chapel Hill, board members will have public university financial woes fresh on their minds.
The budget proposed Sunday by the N.C. House of Representatives includes cuts of $149 million to the UNC system in 2013-14 — nearly $100 million more than the Senate proposed. The House will vote on its budget proposal today.
Total cuts to universities over the last three years will likely top $500 million once a two-year budget is passed at the end of June.
“You feel those kinds of cuts in the classroom,” said Jennifer Willis, UNC-CH’s lobbyist. “We’ve been making decisions in areas that made sense and were the right thing to do.”
But Willis said the series of reductions is beginning to endanger the UNC system’s academic priorities, cutting at the core of university spending instead of trimming the excess.
Tuition talk to continue
The House’s budget, like Gov. Pat McCrory’s, would increase out-of-state tuition at UNC-CH by 12.3 percent, on top of an increase approved by the board last year — although the proposal delays the additional increase from taking effect until the 2014-15 academic year.
Paul Fulton, chairman of the board’s budget and finance committee, said the universities have handled budget cuts well so far.
But he said UNC-system tuition hikes already put in place by the board are substantial enough.
The board approved an 8.8-percent average systemwide tuition increase last year — including a 13.5-percent in-state undergraduate rise at UNC-CH.
“Hopefully we could absorb something in that (funding reduction) area without transferring it to the shoulders of students,” Fulton said. “That’s a general feeling among the Board of Governors.”
Board member Fred Mills said it is important to note that the UNC system’s tuition structure is still low compared to public universities in other states, despite the increases. UNC-CH’s out-of-state tuition for 2013-14 falls in the middle of its peer institutions.
But Mills said universities need to continue trimming excess spending before raising tuition further.
Willis said she and other lobbyists argued to have the out-of-state increase taken out of the Senate’s budget — and they hope to do the same for the final version.
“(The increase) would be extremely detrimental to UNC’s business school, the law school — our professional schools, where folks that are alums tend to stay in North Carolina after they graduate,” she said.
Mills said he’s concerned that the undergraduate college experience would be negatively affected if fewer out-of-state students choose to enroll.
“(Out-of-state enrollment) diversifies our campuses,” he said.
Efficiency push ensues
Tighter campus wallets call for a continued emphasis on efficiency and not more tuition hikes, Fulton said.
At Thursday’s meeting, budget and finance committee members will discuss further implementation of the efficiency goals outlined in the UNC system’s five-year strategic plan.
The House’s budget proposal would allocate $6 million in 2013-14 to fund the strategic plan, which the Senate’s did not.
The UNC system’s cost per degree has decreased by 12 percent over the last five years — evidence that efficiency initiatives are working, Fulton said.
Charles Perusse, chief operating officer of the UNC system, said the plan’s next stages will involve adopting systemwide guidelines for instructional productivity.
Measures to be addressed include course section sizes and consolidating small degree programs, he said.
“It might be curriculum management,” he said. “Instead of teaching four sections of Political Science 101, for example, can you only teach three?”
New budget, new board
The deadline for the N.C. General Assembly to approve a state budget is June 30, and 16 new members will join the Board of Governors July 1 — with several budget puzzles to solve.
Mills said he expects even more cost consciousness among incoming board members.
“They need to (deal with cuts) without sacrificing quality — and that can be done,” Mills said. “But it certainly shouldn’t be tuition.”
Higher education advocates have expressed concern that the new board’s conservative majority lacks diversity and will foster less state support for the UNC system’s agenda.
But Fulton, whose term expires this year, said incoming members have just as much respect for universities as anyone else.
“They may see things different relative to approach, but I don’t have any doubt the group will place the same high value on higher education that this state has historically done.”
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