The Senate budget on post-secondary education, the combined investments in community college and the UNC system, is most notable for what it doesn’t include than for what it does. The University system continues to receive net reductions despite the growing economy, more students attending four year colleges and universities and years of steady funding cuts. The modest increases in the Community College system are insufficient to meet completion and skills training goals.
Post-secondary education and skills training is a pressing need in North Carolina. The state must prepare more residents with credentials and degrees if it is going to meet the projected demand for skilled workers by 2021. Additionally, to grow the economy in a way that everyday North Carolinians will see the benefits in the form of higher incomes and thriving communities with businesses expanding, investments in post-secondary institutions and the tools that boost completion along a range of recognized credentials and degrees is critical.
Of particular note are the following items in the Post-Secondary Education budget:
- The Senate provides the bare minimum needed to keep Community Colleges serving the public by funding anticipated enrollment growth but making no additional investments in student support services or programming needs to increase credential and degree attainment. In contrast, the Governor had proposed funding for continuing education courses at the same level as curriculum courses, providing financial assistance to those seeking industry-recognized credentials, and establishing a scholarship program to fund community college tuition and fees for eligible high school graduates from North Carolina.
- For the UNC system, the Senate requires a reduction in the UNC operating budget equivalent to $1.8 million in the first year and a total reduction of $20 million (recurring and non-recurring) in the second year. Moreover, the Senate would negatively impact centers and institutes system-wide with a reduction of $8 million in funding. These centers and institutes often serve as additional sites for research and development, applied learning opportunities for students as well as a connection point between the campus and community across the state.
- The Senate would move the Apprenticeship NC program to the Community College System from the Department of Labor which could provide greater integration of this on-the-job preparation with the skills training infrastructure of Community Colleges. However, the Senate makes no further investments in the program providing just $1.5 million in state and federal funds for its operation.
- Fails to provide state funding for need-based grant aid to ensure access to a post-secondary education is affordable and reduce the need to take on student loan debt. While failing to boost state support for need-based grant aid, the Senate budget provides an additional $20 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal year 2018 – and an additional $10 million the following year – for private vouchers that provide public-funded scholarships for students to attend private K-12 schools.