In a now commonplace event in terms of budget proposals, the Senate has put forward a proposal that is slightly better for the UNC system than the House Budget. State investments in educating our future workforce and leaders would still be 11 percent below pre-recession levels though at a time when projected demand for North Carolinians with bachelor’s degrees will increase significantly.
The two big differences, and perhaps most important areas of the UNC budget for expanding opportunity, were in enrollment funding and need-based aid. The Senate would increase funding for enrollment growth by $1.3 million sufficient to cover the 780 students that enrollment is projected to grow by over last year’s estimates. This enrollment growth was not fully funded in the House proposal.
The UNC need-based grant program will see $35 million restored from last year’s cut with lottery funds rather than a state appropriation. This is an important investment to make at a time when tuition is increasing significantly and families are struggling to make ends meet. However, given that the source of funds is lottery dollars it is unclear if this represents an ongoing commitment to keep university affordable for low-income students.
Another area of major difference from the House budget is the allocation of $8 million ($6 million of which is recurring) to building reserves which will provide for the operation and maintenance of new or renovated UNC buildings.
One special provision is of particular note. It would have the Fiscal Research Division study the tuition surcharge mandated last year and its effect on student’s achievement and graduation. The tuition surcharge represents a 50% increase for students who fail or do not drop a course and take more than 110% of the credit hours necessary to achieve a baccalaureate degree. Understanding the impact of this financial cost to student completion will be important to determining whether such punitive measures can support students success.