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Another year of budget cuts piles up for UNC system

Long before the N.C. General Assembly finalized a new state budget last month, higher education leaders knew two more years of tight finances would be on the horizon.

The UNC system has seen nearly half a billion dollars erased from its state funding since 2011, including about $65 million in fresh cuts in the 2013-14 budget.

Charlie Perusse, the UNC system’s chief operating officer, said chancellors were warned months ago to prepare for a cut of 3 to 5 percent — but the implications of a fifth-straight year of budget cuts remain to be seen.

Smaller schools like Elizabeth City State University, which will see its $35 million budget slashed by nearly 10 percent, could feel the brunt of the burden, Perusse said.

UNC-CH will take a 5.5 percent cut of $28 million — including a $15 million reduction for the UNC School of Medicine.

“UNC-CH took a pretty big percentage, but they’ll be able to manage,” Perusse said. “For a little school like Elizabeth City State, 10 percent is tough.”

Jim Dean, UNC-CH executive vice chancellor and provost, said the lack of finances to support faculty is one of his chief concerns. The budget did not include raises for UNC-system employees.

“In the last year, we’ve lost more faculty than we’ve been able to keep,” Dean said.

System leaders have said they don’t want to shift more financial pressure onto students — President Tom Ross announced earlier this month he’d recommend a tuition freeze for in-state students next year after a decade of increases.

But the budget included a tuition hike in 2014-15 for undergraduate out-of-state students at 14 system schools, including a 12.3-percent increase at UNC-CH.

Dean said he was concerned financial aid might not be able to offset extra costs to nonresident students.

“(UNC has) no wherewithal to be able to give scholarship money based on (the tuition raise),” he said.

Cuts for teachers

In addition to phasing out both K-12 teacher tenure and the N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarship, the budget ends the 10-to-15-percent pay supplement for K-12 teachers with master’s degrees.

Bill McDiarmid, dean of UNC-CH’s School of Education, said the prospect of no bonus for a graduate degree is already causing statewide enrollment declines — he estimated that for UNC-CH, enrollment has dropped about 40 percent this fall.

“We’re asking teachers to make a very significant investment, and there’s no guarantee of a return on that investment,” he said.

Ellen McIntyre, dean of UNC-Charlotte’s College of Education, said master’s programs offer specialized training for teachers.

But Terry Stoops, an analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said legislators took notice of recent studies showing that master’s degrees do not significantly bolster teachers’ performances.

The budget mandates that graduate students finish by December to get the pay bump.

Moving forward

Perusse said UNC-system chancellors will report to the General Administration by late September with an overview of where cuts will occur on each campus.

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McIntyre said she understands that legislators had tough financial calls to make.

“Legislators do care about education,” she said.

Still, Dean said questions remain as to how UNC-CH will absorb the new reductions.

“Everything is on the table. Anything that’s easy to cut has been cut already.”