Editorial: It’s time for NC to reinvest in higher education, not impose deeper cuts

Budget writers hoping to give K-12 teachers and state workers a raise this year are eying the UNC system’s budget as the source for covering those raises.  But the Charlotte Observer writes in an editorial this week that would be a huge mistake:

unc-campusIt’s bad enough that North Carolina is near the cellar among states for paying public school teachers. But if N.C. lawmakers approve the $49 million cut to higher education Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed for 2014-2015, the state could sink to the bottom in terms of funding to our university system, too.

Already, the Tar Heel state is among an ignominious group of eight states where politicians last year slashed funding to higher education while all the other states boosted spending on their public colleges and universities. Neighboring South Carolina was among those increasing higher ed funding – as did most other Southern states, including Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee.

Worse, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said this month, North Carolina was among a handful of states last year that cut higher education the most. It also is one of four states to cut per-student funding by more than 20 percent since the recession hit in 2008.

In a statement, UNC system President Tom Ross outlined the implications of McCrory’s plan:

“In the context of a growing economy where other states are re-investing in their public universities, this is an issue of competitiveness. To improve North Carolina’s economic position, attract new industry, and create needed new jobs, North Carolina must continue to maintain its strong public university system.”

And Ross noted another pernicious impact of the cuts. “We have been forced to raise tuition,” he said. “While we will continue to search for additional efficiencies and savings, we cannot continue to shift the costs of higher education from the state to students and their families.”

That shift is occurring nationwide. But once again, North Carolina finds itself in a leading position where it is preferable to be trailing. It is 11th among the 50 states in the increase in tuition at public universities since 2008. Tuition rose nearly 35 percent from 2008 to fiscal year 2014, according to the Center. That’s nearly double the 18.4 percent tuition increase in South Carolina.

In addition to sharp tuition increases, the higher education cuts have hurt in other ways. In 2011, the UNC system had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent, of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated and 3,000 jobs were cut. Since 2008 at UNC Chapel Hill, budget reductions have meant eliminating 493 positions, cutting 16,000 course seats and increasing class sizes.

Critics have dubbed McCrory’s proposal the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul budget. That’s because the higher education cuts would help pay for much-deserved raises for the state’s public school teachers. Teachers have gone without a pay boost – except for a small one – since 2008. The stagnant pay has put North Carolina 46th in teacher pay nationally.

Lawmakers must pay teachers more. But they should find the money to do so from somewhere else. These higher education cuts are hurting the university system’s ability to educate the skilled and diverse workforce North Carolina needs to grow and thrive.

Other states have wisely changed course and are re-investing in higher education. North Carolina, to be competitive, needs to do likewise.

Check Also

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. General Assembly-ordered cuts likely to hamper services ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

When Gov. Roy Cooper visits Wilmington on Monday, it's unlikely that he will be greeted by the [...]

When Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention or STOP Act into law last month, [...]

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may b [...]

Wilmington is bustling this summer. Downtown, horse-drawn carriages take tourists along the riverfro [...]

It’s not an original thought to point out that the Trump Administration is a larger version of what [...]

Why this is not “business as usual” and should not be condoned Sometimes all one can do is stand and [...]

5.0---percentage of overall state spending in the 2017-2018 budget passed by the General Assembly as [...]

The post A legislative addiction appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more

NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more