News: CJ Exclusives

Legislators Address UNC Issues

Measures to affect funding, construction, enrollment policies have different fates

CHAPEL HILL— Proposed legislation affecting the University of North Carolina system captured headlines throughout the 2004 short session. Most centered on the two different bond packages passed by the Senate ($240 million) and the House ($338 million), including some projects that had not even been approved by the UNC Board of Governors. There were other bills, however, concerning higher education that either passed or were dropped in anticipation for greater discussion next year.

Among the items placed in the budget was an overall increase in funding to the UNC system. Both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2005 budget included increases in funding, as well as new projects and initiatives funded with money from the General Fund.

Overall, the General Assembly increased the UNC system’s budget by $49 million, from $1.82 billion to just short of $1.87 billion. That increase came after legislators approved a 1.7 percent management flexibility reduction, which equaled $26 million.

The budget includes $2 million in funding for the UNC-Wilmington marine biology program. A provision in the budget would allow UNC-Chapel Hill to continue to operate the Horace Williams Airport. The budget also allows Fayetteville State and the North Carolina School for the Arts to sell the residences of their chancellors and either build or purchase new ones.

Senators placed into the budget a request to build the William Friday Institute for Higher Education. The institute is named after UNC President Emeritus William Friday, who led the system from 1956 to 1986.

The measure was introduced by the House in April 2003 and was added to the budget by the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee this year. The institute, according to the Senate budget bill, would help students, faculty, and administrators in the system to learn about academic administration leadership opportunities.

Senators approved the measure when Friday and his wife, Ida, were honored with the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

“I know you’re disappointed often in our shortcomings,” House Democratic Speaker Jim Black said of Friday in the News & Observer of Raleigh. “We strive to follow your lead. … We don’t measure up to what your expectations are, but surely we try.”

The budget bill also calls for the state to look into a tuition grant program at the North Carolina School for Science and Math that legislators approved last year. According to the tuition grant program, any North Carolina School for Science and Math graduate would receive free tuition to any UNC system school.

North Carolina School for Science and Math President Gary Boreman had lobbied parents and students to win their support for the continuation of the tuition grant program.

Among the bills dropped from consideration was a measure that would have made permanent the 18 percent cap on out-of-state student freshmen enrollment. That bill was prompted by discussions last year by the UNC Board of Governors on lowering the cap. The idea did not resonate with some members of the General Assembly.

Cumberland County Rep. Alex Warner, who was among the bill’s sponsors in the House, told the Herald-Sun of Durham that the bill was dropped because it would not have been able to go through the entire legislative process this session.

“I think this was a shot from the General Assembly across the bow, that we mean business on this,” Warner said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the message has been sent.”

Brad Wilson, UNC Board of Governors chairman, considered the measure was an attempt by the General Assembly to run the UNC board, and he told the Herald-Sun how pleased he was that it was no longer under consideration.

“I think that was an excellent decision” to drop the legislation, Wilson said. “While I recognize that the General Assembly has the ultimate authority, I do think that matters of education policy are best left to the Board of Governors.”

Shannon Blosser ([email protected]) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.