News: CJ Exclusives

Community Colleges Prepare For Lean Budget Cycle

System hopes to make up $107 million through revenues, cuts

Along with leaders at the University of North Carolina system, administrators at the North Carolina Community College System are expected to absorb a share of the cuts needed to close a projected $3.7 billion budget deficit. Analysts predict community colleges will see their $1.055 billion budget cut by between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Gov. Bev Perdue urged each state department to illustrate how it would reduce costs by 10 percent. Jennifer Haygood, vice president and chief financial officer of the community college system, told Carolina Journal the system tried to take a “balanced approach.”

To reach the 10-percent goal, Haygood said, the system would need to find about $107 million in cuts or new revenues. NCCCS proposes to reach that goal with a combination of a tuition increase, spending reductions, management flexibility, special category programs, and a “fundamental rethinking” of how to provide funds to the colleges.

Tuition increase

System leaders have proposed a tuition jump of $10 per credit-hour. Haygood said this would bring the total cost of a credit hour to $66.50, with a maximum cost of $1,064.00 a semester — still one of the lowest tuition rates in the Southeast. The system estimates this increase would raise an extra $46 million in revenues, a little less than half its target.

Spending Cuts

NCCCS is looking at $60 million in spending cuts with about $5.25 million coming from specific programs. Programs such as basic skills, literacy, and the adult high school diploma could be affected.

The system also is looking to cut $29 million with “management flexibility,” setting a target for cuts at each of the 58 campuses and allowing individual schools to decide where those reductions would be made.

Another area the system is considering is cuts to its special category programs. Over the years, many of these have been eliminated, but the NCCCS is proposing cutting two more — the Hickory Metro Higher Ed Center and the Botanical Lab at Fayetteville Tech.

After reducing spending in these areas, another $25 million still needs to be cut, Haygood said. This required NCCCS to rethink how the colleges were funded.

New funding formulas

Currently, all community college students receive an equal stipend from the state. NCCCS is seeking to move to a “differentiated, weighted model, so that lab-based sciences, health care, and technical education are funded more than other programs,” said Haygood.

“In those [named] classes, class size can’t expand and they are equipment intensive,” she added. Because these classes train students for jobs that are in heavy demand, “funding these students more than those in other programs makes sense.”

General Assembly interaction

The NCCCS presented its plan for a 10-percent reduction to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. This was the first — and so far only — interaction with the General Assembly regarding cost reductions.

This preliminary interaction did not generate a lot of feedback from the General Assembly, though members did ask questions about financial aid for students. It’s too soon to say whether lawmakers will accept the proposals, or if they are looking for cuts in specific areas.

Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, appointed as co-chairman of the Higher Education and Higher Education Appropriations Committees, told CJ that he sees the system’s proposals “as a starting point.” Since community colleges are “critical to job training and helping people get jobs,” which is a stated priority of the incoming Republican majority in the General Assembly, the legislature wants “to be very careful about any cuts to the Community College System.”

Stevens said, “there is a very daunting $3.7 billion budget gap for the whole state,” and wants to make sure that cuts aren’t made “across the board, but with a surgical approach to make sure the right things are funded,” eliminated, and reduced.

“I appreciate that starting point that the NCCCS have given us, but also recognize there will be much discussion, dialogue, and input before the budget process is completed,” Stevens said.

Impact of the Cuts

The last three years, enrollment in NCCCS has grown by 25 percent, with 50,000 new full-time equivalent students. During the same period, General Fund appropriations has dropped by 12 percent, or $609 per student. A 10-percent cut on top of the already declining revenue will really “impact students and classrooms,” Haygood said. “Fewer course sections will offered, so students will have a more difficult time getting the courses they need,” which also will increase the time spent in school before graduation.

Amanda Vuke is an editorial intern for Carolina Journal.