Among the notable items in the North Carolina House budget released on Monday night is new funding for a school of engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill, and requirements that the medical programs are following merit-based policies.

Called the College of Applied Science and Technology, the budget directs UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees to establish the new college by expanding or combining academic programs to support the needs of research, industry, and workforce demands.

“As part of establishing the College of Applied Science and Technology pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, the Board of Trustees of UNC-CH shall review other existing academic programs at UNC-CH and consider consolidating or eliminating programs that have a low return on investment or low enrollment,” the budget reads.”The Board of Trustees of UNC-CH shall reinvest any savings realized from consolidating or eliminating programs pursuant to this subsection into academic programs at UNC-CH that have a high return on investment or high enrollment.”

North Carolina State University has the largest and most robust engineering program in the state, but there are also taxpayer-funded programs at UNC-Charlotte, East Carolina University, UNC-Wilmington, North Carolina A&T, Western Carolina University, and Elizabeth City State University. UNC-Chapel Hill already had a joint program with NC State in biomedical engineering, but sought support from lawmakers for a larger engineering college.

“There are world-class engineering programs 27 miles east and 52 miles west of Chapel Hill at NC State and North Carolina A&T. Additionally, there are programs at UNC Charlotte, East Carolina, Campbell, Duke, and other universities in our state,” stated Donald Bryson, CEO of John Locke Foundation, in reaction to the provision. “It’s difficult to see what scarcity this $8 million is solving.”

Also within the budget for UNC-Chapel Hill is continued funding and growth for the School of Civic Life and Leadership. In the 2023 budget lawmakers officially funded launching the program with $4 million split over two years. The program is intended to focus on fundamentals of government and American history, but faced opposition from faculty at the university.

“Courses may focus on the development of democratic competencies informed by American history and the American political tradition, with the purpose of fostering public discourse and civil engagement necessary to promote democracy and benefit society,” according to last year’s budget. 

In Section 8.8 of the House budget, lawmakers wrote in requirements that the health-related programs at UNC system schools will have publicly available admissions criteria. The language follows a wholesale change in how the system approaches DEI-based admissions policies, and complying with the US Supreme Court decisions in UNC vs. Students for Fair Admissions.

“All constituent institutions offering degrees, certifications, or training related to healthcare shall make publicly available the criteria by which applicants for admission to the institution or program are evaluated,” the budget language reads. “The publicly available information shall include a rubric that details the weight placed upon each admissions criterion, including standardized test scores, grades, class rigor, personal statements, interviews, and any other factors used to determine admission.”

The schools would be required to submit the information annually to an electronic dashboard available to the public, beginning in September of 2024.

“The House Budget makes important statements about university strategy and oversight, mostly focused on UNC-Chapel Hill. The proposed College of Applied Science and Technology, continued support for SCiLL, and additional responsibilities for the NC Collaboratory reflect the legislature’s confidence in Carolina.”

For elementary and secondary educational research, the budget allocates $1.5 million in recurring funds to establish the Office of Learning Research (OLR). The office would study the impact and effectiveness of “programs, activities, initiatives, and procedures,” in K-12 education. The office would put some of the scrutiny and research on education processes in hands outside of the state’s Department of Public Instruction.

In the bill language, DPI would be required to provide OLR with all the data, personnel, records, and other information so the office can “provide information and support needed by elementary and secondary public schools, university leaders, and elected officials to make evidence-based decisions.”

Approximately $180 million in the budget would also be used to renovate Poe Hall at NC State University. The building was closed last November after PCBs were found in the 1971 structure. The school is currently fighting a lawsuit from a former grad student who has cancer and believes he might have personal injury claims against NCSU. The appropriations would go toward gutting the building.