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Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This week has been deemed Education Week by legislative leaders, who have invited superintendents, principals and teachers from across the state to Raleigh to discuss public education issues. As education leaders and teachers share their thoughts and concerns regarding public education, funding has been a key part of that conversation.

With consistent improvement in proficiency rates, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, and graduation rates over the past 20 years, North Carolina has long been recognized for its commitment to public education – both K-12 education and higher education. However, significant cuts made to K-12 and higher education in recent years threaten to erode the leadership position the state has achieved among southern states. As lawmakers work to craft and approve a biennial budget for FY 2014-15, investment in public education will be a central part of the budget debate.

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The massive open online course (MOOC) provider, Coursera, announced today that 29 universities including UNC-Chapel Hill have signed on as partners to offer free classes to the public through their websites, doubling the company’s size.

Coursera began operating just last year, and in that short amount of time has registered 2.8 million users. While courses are currently noncredit and free, it appears Coursera’s business model will evolve as the company does have future plans to charge students interested in earning “certificates of completion.”

Duke University, which joined Coursera in 2012, plans to take part in their pilot program for fee-based courses. Many universities, however, may not be so quick to accept these certificates for credit. As David Szatmary, University of Washington’s vice provost for educational outreach, tells Inside Higher Ed, “Most of our peers probably wouldn’t take a free Coursera course certificate for credit.”  He also said that the University of Washington would not sign certificates for their own free Coursera courses. “We obviously don’t want to compete with ourselves.”

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mccrory-121cGovernor Pat McCrory is finding little support for comments he made earlier this week that the basic funding formula for higher-education should be based on how well universities do in placing students in the world of work.

McCrory told a national audience on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” show Tuesday:

“I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs…”

“….if you want to take gender studies, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if it’s not going to get someone a job.”

That kicked off a petition drive by a Ph.D. student at UNC who has collected more than 1,600 signatures (as of this writing), telling Governor McCrory to give UNC’s liberal arts program “the respect it deserves and keep your politics out of it.”

Here’s a sampling of the comments accompanying the petition:

‘Reading, writing and upper level thinking skills comprise the backbone of an education. Please do not remove the backbone of our future, or else we’re just a societal pile of mush.’ -  Marissa E., Carrboro, NC

‘How did NC elect a Governor who does not understand the relationship between the humanities in higher education to the creation of a good society filled with creative minds?’ - Robert S., Carolina Beach, NC

‘Dear Gov McCrory: After studying a liberal arts curriculum at UNC, I have enjoyed a 30-year (and counting) journalism career. I was California Newspaper Executive of the Year in 2002, share a Pulitzer Prize with staff members at the Miami Herald, and many other awards. My liberal arts education at UNC-Chapel Hill was second to none. I’m confused by your recent comments that people who study liberal arts “have no chance of getting … jobs.” North Carolina universities used to be among the best in the nation. It takes a well-rounded curriculum to produce a well-rounded education.’ - Tracie C., Fresno, CA

‘Even though I am a science major, I have found the diversity of interests at UNC has allowed me to meet all sorts of people that I never would have met if I went to a school much more focused on science. I enjoy conversations with people who have very different interests than I do. They have bright futures ahead of them, and we need to continue to have a diversity of interests at UNC.’ - Ilona F., Chapel Hill, NCUNC petition

‘Shocked and disappointed by Gov. McCrory taking such a ridiculous and ill-informed stance. Yes, we need job training and yes, we need to support community colleges, but not at the expense of UNC liberal arts programs.’ - Lori C.,  Chapel Hill, NC

‘Instead of pseudo intellectual politicians preaching on education perhaps they can move their cronies in the corporate sector to actually hire the legions of graduates from our already existent and successful community college system instead of outsourcing jobs to maximize profits.’ - Charles S., Charlotte, NC Read More

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No, we are not making this up. The following is an excerpt from a fundraising email sent out this morning by the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (better known as the Pope Center to Dismantle Higher Education):

“While we congratulate the president on his victory, conservatives are asking themselves why he won. One reason is our universities.  Read More

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Be sure to check out today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File to get the lowdown on yesterday’s meeting of the “UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions.”

The most optimistic spin: People who care about the future of higher education in our state will have their works cut out for them if they want to resist the folks committed to dismantling it.