Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just what NC really needs -- fewer UNC system grads

Today's N&O reports that the state House budget released this week cuts back on enrollment growth funding for the UNC system for 2011-12.  Ray Rapp, a Democrat from Mars Hill, is quoted "We're trying to keep it accessible and affordable as it always has been, but we're trying to get a handle on planning.  It just can't be an open checkbook."

Initial reactions: 
1) I have worked at one of the two flagship research universities for 32 years and this is the first I have heard of an open checkbook.  Last time I checked the UNC system took about a 10 percent budget cut this year.  I am sure the faculty and staff who have been laid off would like to get their hands on this open checkbook.
2) This is a classic case of save now and pay later.  College graduates earn roughly 50 percent more over their lifetimes than high school graduates.  Since the overwhelming majority of UNC system grads stay in NC and the state has a graduated income tax, they pay 55-60 percent more in taxes over their lifetimes.  Also corporations base their location and expansion decisions on the availability of educational resources.
3) I do not envy the position of state legislators.  They have a $700-800 million budget hole to plug in 2010-11 and a $3 billion hole in 2011-12.  Clearly there will need to be retrenchment in many areas; unfunded federal mandates will make matters even more difficult.  Painful decisions about taxes and future government services await. 
4) I am not so naive as to think the UNC system should be exempt from future cuts.  However, these cuts should not be made in a way that will jeopardize access to higher education for future generations.  I think all other options should be on the table: more distance ed, higher teaching loads, shifting some teaching from UNC to community and technical colleges -- all of this and more should be on the table.

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