“Transformative and generous.”

That’s the praise heaped on the new state budget from supporters of the University of North Carolina System. With college admissions decisions coming over the next few weeks, many students are wondering what their first-pick schools are allotted in the 2021 Appropriations Act.

The budget plan was written and passed by the Republican-led General Assembly this fall, and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in November. It’s the first state budget Cooper has signed since taking office five years ago.

In a Board of Governors meeting after the budget passed, UNC System President Peter Hans called it a “remarkable start on a new era, in which we will lift up our faculty and staff, broaden our educational reach, revamp our campus facilities, and make education more affordable to more North Carolinians.”

Broadly, the budget cleared the way for 5% raises for UNC System faculty, plus bonuses. Some $2 billion is reserved for the capital fund to cover the cost of building renovations on campuses across the state. For the UNC Board of Governors, the most dramatic change will be the system’s headquarters transferring from Chapel Hill to the state government complex in Raleigh, at a price of $11 million for new offices. Politically, the move means UNC Chapel Hill will have less direct access to lawmakers and appointed leaders overseeing the university system, while making it more convenient for Raleigh-based N.C. State University.

Also in the budget, the NC Promise tuition plan will expand, and N.C. State University and UNC Greensboro will get new esports facilities.

“The legislature’s generous appropriation for repairs, renovations, and building rehabilitation is a significant investment in the UNC System’s infrastructure,” said Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. “Maintenance at our UNC schools is an ongoing project. This budget goes a long way toward addressing some longstanding problems.”

One of the biggest changes to the UNC System includes adding Fayetteville State University to NC Promise. It will be the fourth university linked to the program, joining Western Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, and UNC Pembroke. With state help, tuition at participating schools drops to $500 per semester for students who are residents of North Carolina and $2,500 for nonresidents. However, students will still need to finance other needs such as room and board, dining, and other mandatory fees. The estimated cost for this new program is $11.5 million.

The change could affect FSU’s enrollment and graduation rate. According to the General Assembly, since joining the plan in 2018, ECSU had a 50% increase in enrollment. That rate has plateaued since the pandemic.

UNC Greensboro will use $2.4 million in esports funding to build a 3,300-square-foot facility with 48 PCs, three gaming console bays, and VR glasses. N.C. State gets $12 million for a new facility, plus $4 million for a mobile esports truck.

Industry leader Epic Games is headquartered in Cary, though Robinson isn’t necessarily a fan of spending taxpayer money on gaming.

“Esports facilities are a marketing gimmick and a financial gamble,” said Robinson. “They don’t contribute to universities’ academic mission. It’s not clear how well these projects work to attract new students.”

Esports is labeled as a sporting event in which competitors work in teams. Competitors play competitive video games such as Fortnite, developed by Epic Games, and League of Legends, both of which are accessed through social media platforms like Twitch. According to Insider Intelligence, the U.S. alone has about 29.6 million monthly esports viewers.

UNC System projects

Below is a list of new projects and programs funded by the new state budget for the UNC System. In some cases, costs affect only one academic year (2021-22), while in other cases the costs cover both 2021-22 and 2022-23.

N.C. State will have several new programs and construction projects:

  • Engineering North Carolina’s Future. Provides significant money for faculty, staff, and other resources for the expansion of College of Engineering, $20 million
  • Construction of a new apicultural research facility, $4 million

University of North Carolina Asheville

  • UNC Asheville will receive $4 million to fund 400 student merit-based scholarships each year, for students from rural, first-generation, or underrepresented communities
  • Undergraduate Student Enrollment and Success Funding to improve student retention and aid in career placement, $10 million
  • Student Debt Reduction: $3 million for students who are residents, accepted and entering the university with an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less. The funds apply in the form of credit to qualifying students’ accounts to assist in limiting student debt.

Fayetteville State University

  • New residence hall and parking deck, $24 million

UNC Chapel Hill

  • New business school facility, $28,7 million
  • Expansion of Burson Data Center, $600,000

Elizabeth City State University

  • New aviation instruction building, $14 million
  • New dining facility, $7,5 million
  • New residence hall, $40 million
  • New sky bridge, $2.5 million

Winston-Salem State University

  • R. Williams auditorium renovation, $20 million

Western Carolina University

  • Funding for the upper campus infrastructure of the Moore building, $9,2 million

Other new projects for the UNC System include:

  • N.C. Central University will get new laboratory equipment and instruments, $3 million.
  • N.C. School of Science and Math will build a new Morganton campus for summer 2022, at a cost of $9 million.
  • UNC Wilmington will build a new education facility at Isaac Bear Early College High School, for $994,000.
  • UNC Charlotte will expand its engineering department, at $10 million.
  • East Carolina University receives $5.9 million to support the residency program at Brody School of Medicine.
  • N.C A&T receives $13 million to support new faculty and graduate student services for the doctoral programs, including computer science, various engineering fields, energy and environmental systems, education, and rehabilitation counseling.
  • UNC Asheville receives $500,000 for the rural medical resource initiative.
  • UNC Pembroke receives $500,000 for the acquisition and use of mobile medical units in rural and at-risk communities due to the pandemic.