Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 84: Boosting Salaries Difficult in Tight Budget Year, Say Lawmakers

N.C. community college leaders are asking lawmakers for $174.5 million to boost faculty and staff salaries, but key legislators say it will be difficult to fund all those needs in a tight budget year. A legislative committee is scheduled to discuss the matter next week.

Community college representatives have long argued that the salaries of faculty and staff rank low nationally. A special provision during the 2000 session of the General Assembly directed the State Board of Community Colleges to investigate such claims. The result was a study by independent consultant Kent Caruthers of MGT America that he presented to board members on November 17.

The study shows that salaries are low by any measure. Caruthers compared community college faculty and staff salaries to the average, median, and 80th percentile of all 50 states, 16 states in the region, 10 states with the most similar mix of instructional programs, 10 states with economies most similar to North Carolina’s, and 10 states most similar in combined program and economic measures. He also compared N.C. community college presidents’ salaries with the salaries of community college presidents in eight other states that place an emphasis on work-force development programs.

The study found that the average faculty salary in North Carolina is $36,205, below the national average of $43,637, the regional average of $41,495, and the $44,654 average for similar programs. The study recommends bringing salaries to the national average in the next biennium – an effort that would cost around $79.2 million. It also recommends bringing salaries within the 80th percentile nationally (when taking the composite of all comparative factors) during the following biennium. The total price tag would be $174.5 million.

“It is the best effort yet of looking at faculty and staff salaries in the system,” said Kennon Briggs, vice president of business and finance for the community college system. “I think it is important to recognize that we did not take one measure, but six measures in studying faculty salaries and their competitiveness. We truly compared apples to apples.”

At their November meeting, community college board members voted to send the consultant’s report and recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor. Caruthers and Briggs will make their pitch to the Legislature’s Education Oversight Committee on December 19.

“It is our hope that the committee will develop a new legislative initiative to address faculty salary concerns,” said Briggs. “We want to look like states that have systems that look like us. The reason we’re suggesting the 80th percentile is because that is what the UNC system looked at. The centerpiece of every governor’s economic package is a good community college system.”

“It’s a lot of money,” said Sen. Howard Lee, cochairman of the education oversight committee. “Our goal right now should be to reach the national average. I am personally not committed to going beyond the national average at this time.”

“There’s a commitment among colleagues to bring salaries to the national average,” Lee added. “We don’t have nearly enough to meet [that average] this year, but perhaps within a three or four year period [we will].”

“We will make a good effort toward enhancing faculty salaries, but it will be a struggle because this will be an extremely tight budget year,” Lee said. “It’s important enough that we should keep it among our top priorities.”