Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 56: UNC, Community Colleges Need More State Funds, Leaders Contend

Leaders for the UNC and N.C. Community College Systems were back at the General Assembly on Monday for another bout with legislators over capital funding.

The capacity of the University of North Carolina will be completely absorbed by 2008 if the state does not drastically increase funding for the system’s capital needs, UNC leaders told members of the Joint Select Committee on Higher Education Facilities Needs. Leaders for the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) also asked legislators for more funds, presenting a study by MGT of America that contends that the schools need more than $1.2 billion in state funds for new construction and repair (see Clarion Call, February 24, 2000, for more on this study). The Committee was formed in 1999 after disagreement between the House and Senate over how best to fund new construction and repair for UNC-system schools and NCCCS.

In terms of capital needs, UNC leaders offered no new numbers at Monday’s meeting. Instead, they reiterated their intention to seek state support for new spending and said that the projected enrollment increase of 50,000 — a widely disputed figure — necessitated more state support for the university system.

“Our capital needs are not only significant, they are also well-documented” said UNC President Molly Broad. “These needs are very well documented and we are prepared to share that documentation with you.” According to Broad, the university already faces a $573 million shortfall. That number includes projects that the state has already partially funded but can’t be completed due to a lack of funds. Broad cited the shortfall as an example of the “price” of the pay-as-you-go system and said that the problem would only get worse in the next decade.

University enrollment will increase by 50,000 students in the next 10 years, according to UNC consultant Eva Klein. Both Klein and President Broad said that the university’s current facilities are wholly inadequate to accommodate the projected increase and that the current pay-as-you go system could not sufficiently address future needs.

But several legislators dispute the projected enrollment numbers. “We don’t know if 50,000 people are going to go to the universities,” Sen. Virginia Foxx, R-Watauga, told Clarion Call in January. Former legislator Skip Stam has called the 50,000 projection an “arbitrary” number.

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy’s George Leef said that with new technology, the rise of for-profit education, and distance learning, it would be impossible to predict UNC’s enrollment. “Still, even if it is true that there will be increased desire to enroll in the UNC system in the future (which is conjectural in the fast-changing market for education),” said Leef, “that does not necessitate that the UNC system expand to accommodate all the would-be entrants.”

“Presently the state’s independent colleges and universities have 9,000 empty places and could readily accommodate students who weren’t admitted to UNC and wanted higher education enough to pay somewhat more to get it,” Leef added. “There will also be more and more internet-based education programs that cost substantially less than traditional, on-campus studies, giving students another option.”

Leef also questioned furthering the state’s already firm commitment to higher education.

“Students in the UNC system contribute less to its revenues than do students in almost any other state university system. Tuition and fees cover only 20 percent of the cost of UNC, whereas in many other states that percentage is far higher. In Virginia, students pay for 46 percent of the cost. In Vermont, the nation’s highest percentage, it’s 75 percent. Instead of burdening taxpayers with higher university spending, we should more realistically charge for educational services provided by UNC.”