Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory told a national radio audience Tuesday that state community colleges and universities should be funded based on how well they do at placing their students in the job market.
"Right now, we pay based upon how many students you have, not on the results of how many jobs you're getting people into," McCrory said. "I'm looking at legislation right now – in fact, I just instructed my staff yesterday to go ahead and develop legislation – which would change the basic formula in how education money is given out to our universities and our community colleges. It's not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs."
Speaking on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" show, McCrory touched on themes similar to those he talked about during the campaign.
"I'm a big vocational training advocate," McCrory told Bennett. "I think some of the educational elite have taken over education, where we're offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs."
University of North Carolina President Tom Ross said the 16-campus system is already transitioning its funding formula to include measures related to student achievement and academic and operational efficiencies. Still, he expressed reservations about gauging university success solely on the employment rate of students and graduates.
"The university’s value to North Carolina should not be measured by jobs filled alone. Our three-part mission of teaching, research and public service requires that we prepare students with the talent and abilities to succeed in the workforce, because talent will be the key to economic growth," Ross said in a statement. "Higher education plays a key role in ensuring a higher quality of life for all North Carolinians."
North Carolina Community College System officials need to learn more about McCrory's stance before commenting on it, spokeswoman Megan Hoenk said.
Legislative leaders also weren't quick to embrace McCrory's comments, but House Speaker Thom Tillis told reporters that it sounds like suggestions developed by a strategic planning committee of the UNC Board of Governors.
"What it really means is making sure that what we're teaching our students in community college and university systems are aligned with the market demands," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.
The General Assembly should not micromanage how the university system does its business but measure the outcomes for students, he said.
"One of the most frustrating things that we have as legislators is hearing the businesses out there saying we simply do not have qualified people to fill these jobs," he said. "We've got a 9 percent-plus unemployment rate, and we have hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs that can't be filled because the right skill sets are not available."
Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, co-chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said the problem McCrory outlined is a national issue of matching graduate skills to business needs.
"That’s the sign that tells us we need to change what we’re doing," Johnson said. "I’m not thinking the degrees would change, but the content of the courses."
Because more than half of the General Assembly is serving in their first or second term, she said, members will need to learn about the state of education and talk among themselves before deciding on a course of action.
"We have to have sort of a conversation to find out where they are coming from," she said.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said university campuses and community colleges should be evaluated on a range of criteria, including the employment rate of graduates.
"Universities are much more than job factories; they’re also about broadening minds," Stein said. "That doesn’t mean we can’t get more out of our universities and having them be stronger engines of economic growth."
On the radio with Bennett, McCrory talked about the dual gaps of North Carolina high unemployment rate and employers who can't find jobs as well.
"To me, that means we have a major disconnect between the education establishment and commerce," McCrory said. "So, I'm going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate."
Elisya Mason, a senior marketing major at North Carolina State University, said a range of courses prepare students for life outside the university.
"I feel pretty confident I’ll be able to find a job after I graduate," Mason said. "I think there is a place, especially in the university, for those types of classes."
In response to a dig that Bennett took at gender studies courses, McCrory expanded on the theme of connecting classes offered to potential employment.
"You're right," McCrory said. "That's a subsidized course, and frankly, if you want to take gender studies, that's fine. Go to a private school and take it, but I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job ... It's the tech jobs that we need right now."
The governor tied his train of thought into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill athletics department scandal.
"It's even hit our athletic department at Carolina – our great basketball program," McCrory said. "They took Swahili on a night study course where they didn't have to do any work, and they got B-pluses. What are we teaching these courses for if they're not going to help get a job?"
McCrory said he believes in liberal arts education.
"I got one. I think there are two reasons for education. One is, as my Dad used to say, to exercise the brain, but the second is to get a skill."