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The N.C. House of Representatives released portions of its budget Thursday, and included several significant changes and some cuts for public higher education.

UNCsystemThe entire budget – which is expected to fill in gaps about whether raises are in store for state employees and teachers – is expected to be released Monday, and voted on by the Republican-led House that week.

Senate Republican leaders have not announced when their version of the budget will be done.

Several significant changes were trotted out by House budget writers this week for the state’s public higher education system.

The House did fund expected growth in the system but also calls for $44.3 million over the next two years in management cuts and would roll out a program that would push academically weak college students into a community college program before gaining entry into the state’s four-year universities.

Drew Moretz, the University of North Carolina system’s vice-president for government affairs, said the House calls for fewer cuts than what Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposed.

“It’s a better starting point than what the governor had given us,” Moretz said.

The system as a whole has had $658 million in management cuts since 2008-09, he said.

The House budget would also, for the first time, allow low-income students to get scholarships to virtually attend Western Governors University, an online education program that’s been touted as a low-cost education option by groups like the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

House lawmakers also want to delay more than 1,000 prospective students from attending the state’s public universities by requiring the UNC system to defer admissions to students who meet admissions standards but don’t have strong academic histories

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Commentary

In case you missed it earlier today, be sure to check out this new and sobering release from the Justice Center on the sorry state of North Carolina’s investment in higher education:

North Carolina’s spending on higher education cut deeply since 2008
Shortchanging public universities and colleges reduces access to higher education, hurts economy

RALEIGH (May 13, 2015) — Even as most states have begun to restore funding for higher education that was cut during the recession, North Carolina has continued to cut funding for public universities, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  As a result, tuitions have risen dramatically and the quality of education here has suffered, which will make it harder for the state to attract businesses that rely on a well-educated workforce.

“Smart investments in public colleges and universities will help to strengthen North Carolina’s economy,” said Cedric Johnson of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Communities with highly educated residents attract employers who pay competitive wages. Their employees then spend money in their community, boosting the economy of the entire area. That’s what North Carolina needs as our economy continues to recover from the damaging Great Recession.”

Nationwide, states are spending 20 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. With such deep cuts in higher education investment, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition, cut spending, or both. As a result, tuition at four-year public colleges has grown nationally by 29 percent since the 2007-08 school year.

For North Carolina, costly tax cuts in recent years have hindered the state’s ability to invest in what works, such as its well-regarded public university system. State funding for higher education has been cut by more than 20 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to the new report. Meanwhile, the average tuition at a public, four-year college increased by 36 percent during this period. Read More

News
N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

North Carolina is now on the hunt for new leaders of both its higher education systems, with today’s announcement that N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls is taking a job in Virginia.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill reported early this afternoon that Ralls is taking a new job to head the Northern Virginia Community College, a campus with 75,000 students.

In North Carolina, Rawls has headed the 58-campus state community college system that serves 850,000 students since 2008. He will start his new job in September. (Click here to read the announcement from the Virginia community college.)

From the N&O:

Ralls has led the North Carolina community college system since 2008. The system had phenomenal growth — 28 percent — in the first three years of his tenure, which was during the depths of the recession.

At the same time, the system experienced a budget crunch, all while embarking on a strategy to revamp curriculum, improve graduation rates and forge new transfer agreements with the state’s university system.

A former president of Craven Community College in New Bern and Havelock, Ralls said Thursday he had always intended to return to a campus setting, where he could interact with students and faculty.

“That’s who I am and where my heart is,” Ralls said Thursday. “I’ve always aspired to go back to a campus.”

Ralls’ forthcoming departure comes at the state’s university system is also looking for its new leader, after the UNC Board of Governors moved in January to push out President Tom Ross.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque denied that politics played a roll in Ross’ ouster, but no reasons other than a general desire for change have been given.

Ross is staying in his position until January, and a successor is expected to be announced this fall.

News

Senator Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) filed a bill last week that would require all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. It’s a move that, McInnis says, is an effort to make sure classes are not taught primarily by student assistants — but some are concerned it could hamper research and development at the state’s prestigious institutions of higher education.

“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said in a statement, according to the Richmond County Daily Journal. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”

University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Professor Stephen Leonard, who teaches political science and is chair of the UNC system-wide Faculty Assembly, said the legislation is nothing more than an attempt to kill public higher education in North Carolina.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” said Leonard. “Talented faculty would start looking for work out of state, it would be hard to attract junior faculty coming out of graduate school, and it would be impossible to attract senior faculty who bring a lot of resources to our institutions.”

Leonard says the most problematic consequence of the proposed law would be that the discovery and production of knowledge would grind to a halt.

“Which I suppose is okay if you don’t want to cure cancer, fix infrastructure or make new discoveries about manufacturing processes,” said Leonard.

SB 593 would tie professors’ salaries to their course loads—those teaching fewer than four courses each semester would earn less than their full salaries, determined on a pro-rata basis.

The legislation also allows for the salary difference to be made up by an individual campus’ endowment, should they determine a professor should take on a lighter course load in order to conduct research – but Leonard says that’s an untenable scenario for most campuses.

“Good luck with that,” said Leonard. “Almost all of the campuses that are not Research 1 institutions would have a hard time coming up with the funds to do that.”

According to the Richmond County Daily Journal, the bill would result in professors at big research universities like UNC – Chapel Hill finding their course loads nearly double.

The bill comes at a time when the state’s university system is undergoing considerable turmoil thanks to recent controversial decisions to raise tuition, close three academic centers and fire UNC’s widely-praised president, Tom Ross. The system has also been handed substantial budget cuts over the past five years by the state legislature, including a $400 million cut in 2011.

Sen. McInnis did not respond to requests for comment. Read the bill in its entirety below.

Commentary
Senator Tom Apodaca

Senator Tom Apodaca

It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.

Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.

What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, Read More